“…and the abandoned school cafeteria became the kitchen classroom.” Wow! That’s transformative. I read this in a history of the Edible Schoolyard Project at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Middle School in Berkeley, California. Alice Waters, the legendary doyenne of California Cuisine, was the impetus behind ESY in 1995 and now supports it through her Chez Panisse Foundation. “California Cuisine is a style of cuisine marked by an interest in fusion cuisine (integrating disparate cooking styles and ingredients) and in the use of freshly prepared local ingredients,” according to Wikipedia. New American Cuisine derives from California Cuisine. Alice Waters’ influence on cooking with fresh, local ingredients is undeniable. Would that teaching our children about food were as transformative.
I was directed to this site, and another, Edible Schoolyard New Orleans (ESYNOLA), by Randy Fertel, a neighbor. As co-chair of the ESYNOLA Task Force, Randy told me that in just the last 7 years New Orleans has established an offshoot of ESY in 5 First Line public open-enrollment charter schools. In his words, paraphrasing, “…when children are engaged in the growing, harvesting, and preparing of food, they are far more likely to eat it.” According to their website, “Edible Schoolyard New Orleans changes the way children eat, learn, and live...” “Our mission is to improve the long-term well being of our students, families, and school community by integrating hands-on organic gardening and seasonal cooking into the school curriculum, culture, and cafeteria programs.” What a great idea!
I have never been a parent, so my exposure to the policies and politics of school lunch programs is nil, but I do read the paper and listen to and watch the news. On the local level, the issues revolve around whether flavored milk should be banned from the cafeteria. Eight ounces of white milk contains 14 grams of natural sugar or lactose; fat-free chocolate milk has six grams of added sugar for a total of 20 grams, while fat-free strawberry milk has a total of 27 grams — the same as eight ounces of Coca-Cola. Flavored milk is like candy. Others argue that vending machines in schools should be banned altogether, or just allowed if they are limited to “healthy” snack foods. Healthy is defined as low in saturated (solid) fats and made with just enough partially hydrogenated vegetable oils to escape having to be labeled as containing dangerous trans fats. Defining “healthy” is an uphill fight.
At the Federal level, in 2010 the U.S. Government reentered the fray with the latest version of the USDA’s 167-page National School Lunch and School Breakfast Program. It advocates more fresh fruits and vegetables and less added sugar, but the most worrisome part of the new school lunch program is the emphasis on reduced saturated fat. Regardless of what you think about saturated fat in the adult diet, children need saturated fat in their diet.
· Cell Membranes – 50 percent of the fats in cell membranes must be saturated for the cells to function properly.
· Lung Function – The lungs cannot function without saturated fats, which explains why children fed butter and whole milk have much less asthma than children fed margarine and low-fat milk.
· Kidney Function – The kidneys operate through a process that requires saturated fat.
· Brain and Nervous System – The normal brain is especially rich in saturated fat (and also cholesterol).
· Immune System – Saturated fats are needed for healthy immune function.
· Protection against Infection – Some kinds of saturated fats (found in coconut oil and butter) help fight pathogenic bacteria, viruses and parasites. Children fed skim milk suffer from infection five times more frequently than children fed whole milk.
· Heart Function – Saturated fats are the preferred food for the heart. Children on low-fat diets actually develop blood markers indicating proneness to heart disease.
· Vitamin Carriers – Saturated animal fats serve as unique sources of nutrients such as vitamins A and D, and CLA.
So, the Edible Schoolyard is a breath of fresh air. The curriculum is fully integrated into the school day and teaches students how their choices about food affect their health, the environment, and their communities.” I like it. What are you doing about nutrition in your school’s lunch program? Or what would you do if the government stayed out of what foods you could serve/not serve in your school instead of pimping for Agribusiness in Washington DC?