Deep Breath In, Deep Breath Out: It’s a School-Food-Reform-Free Day on TLT!

by Bettina Elias Siegel on October 22, 2010

I hadn’t gotten a chance to share it on TLT, but earlier in the week, fellow school-food blogger Ed Bruske had a rather pessimistic post on the whole issue of school food reform.

He was reporting on a Wash Po poll which showed that 47% of D.C. respondents are opposed to a new program that will feed dinner to 10,000 needy school children in the district.  Apart from the poll results, the story was accompanied by some pretty nasty reader comments, many of them racially-tinged.

Ed was clearly dispirited by the whole thing, and concluded his post this way:

Sentiments like these explain perfectly why the U.S. Senate, in approving a re-authorization of the Child Nutrition Act that fund school meals, could only find six additional cents to help support the perpetually underfunded school lunch. School food advocates–myself included–who would love nothing better than to see re-heated chicken nuggets and tater tots replaced with fresh food cooked from scratch, need to wise up to the fact that most Americans just don’t care. They grow up in a junk food culture, and do not buy into the idea that children–least of all poor black children–should be eating better than everyone else.

In short, there is no political mandate for spending more money on school food. Maybe it’s time for advocates of better school meals to take stock and adjust their message accordingly.

Both Mrs. Q and I responded to Ed, and you can see the whole exchange here.

I’m not sure that Ed’s pessimism is totally justified — I can see why the thought of “dinner at school” says Nanny State to some people more than lunch, a social benefit to which our society is now accustomed.  But then again, I, too, was on the receiving end of similar comments when I had my op-ed in the Houston Chronicle this past August, so maybe I’m being too forgiving of these readers.

At any rate, after Ed’s glass-half-empty post, which has been sort of echoing in my mind these past few days, and after a rather exhausting day yesterday of ranting about, and protesting for, school food reform, I feel thoroughly sick of the whole topic.  I imagine maybe you do, too.

Thus I hereby declare October 22, 2010 an Official School-Food-Reform-Free Day on TLT.   Let’s talk about kids-and-food topics that are entirely frivolous, shall we?  Any thoughts?

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

LTC October 22, 2010 at 8:04 am

I will start your day of non-school lunch related fun with this website of “pancake art” – my favourite is definitely the 3D dinosaur. Hope it makes you smile as you head into the weekend.
http://www.jimspancakes.com/

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bettina elias siegel October 22, 2010 at 8:18 am

Exactly what I’m in the mood for! I’ll post in a little bit.

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Viki October 22, 2010 at 8:37 am

It isn’t food related but over at
http://thelongthread.com/
there is a wonderful BAT costume idea for a little one.

Remember Bats eat Bad Bugs!

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Ed Bruske October 22, 2010 at 9:13 am

I’ll respond to this tomorrow then.

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bettina elias siegel October 22, 2010 at 10:27 am

I’ll make an exception for you, Ed. :-)

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Jamie October 22, 2010 at 9:28 am

Let’s talk about Palm Sugar! It’s an amazing sweetener that’s low on the glycemic index and has a yummy caramel-y flavor. I’ve been using it in many recipes and am thrilled with it. Safe sweetener? That should brighten your day!

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bettina elias siegel October 22, 2010 at 10:26 am

Are we sure it’s good? I was sold on agave and now everyone’s telling me agave is bad. Also, any info on stevia? Not for my kids, but every now and then I’d love a sugar free soda (I never drink the aspartame or sucralose stuff anymore) and I’m curious.

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Jamie October 22, 2010 at 10:41 am

Agave is bad. Stevia is ok as far as I can tell but I don’t like the taste. So far, palm sugar’s got the goods. I got it from a holistic health/nutrition counselor who’s a wellness bitch. All the research I’ve done points to good.

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bettina elias siegel October 22, 2010 at 1:53 pm

Well, you know how we love our Wellness Bitches around here! :-)

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Ed Bruske October 23, 2010 at 10:50 am

I didn’t want to rock the boat yesterday, when you were taking a break from school food debate. As far as being pessimistic, let me just amend that to “skeptical.” As a journalist first, I’ve taken a solemn oath to see the glass half-empty. That said, I am still on a self-funded mission to find the cutting edge in school food, or at least some kind of consensus arrangement whereby kids aren’t being poisoned on a daily basis. After working on this daily for nearly 11 months, the solution is not at all obvious to me.

That doesn’t mean I’m not hopeful. But I don’t think it’s helpful to ignore facts such as Congress’ lack of interest in fully funding the school meals program or the pushback from newspaper readers angry over entitlement programs or the no-shows when it comes time for parents to meet and create an agenda. I think it’s wonderful to dream of a day when all school meals are cooked from scratch with fresh ingredients just the way Alice Waters might cook them. Until that day arrives, I think we desperately need to get junk food out of schoos so they at least are not contributing to the problem.

In short, I am somewhat skeptical about the former and adamant about the latter. If that makes me sound pessimistic, I trust that others will step in spread a little more sunshine.

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bettina elias siegel October 25, 2010 at 9:36 pm

Ed – Didn’t mean to mischaracterize and I think your skepticism is sorely needed in this arena. In fact, your comment sums up exactly how I feel these days, and I’m only five months into this movement, to your eleven. When I recently stood up at my school’s PTO meeting and asked who wanted to form a Wellness Committee with me, guess how many parents volunteered? Exactly ONE. (I’m as time-strapped as the next parent and I understand the need to say “no” to new volunteer opportunities, but ONE parent? Really?? And this is in a school where many parents can afford to devote the time to the issue. How might I have fared at a less well-off school?)

I guess we’ll both keep at it (taking occasional days off, filled with 3-D dinosaur pancakes and other frivolity). And we all so appreciate your good work and top-notch reporting, Ed.

Thanks for the comment.

– Bettina

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