While tooling around the Internet one day I stumbled upon the story of Sara Salo, a public health advocate in Bend, Oregon who is going to be biking across the country to bring attention to school food reform. Of course, I immediately contacted her, and she kindly agreed to be interviewed by The Lunch Tray.
TLT: First, can you tell us a little about yourself — your background and what you do when you’re not bringing attention to school food?
SS: Physical activity and healthy eating have been consistent themes throughout my life. I received my Bachelor’s degree in Exercise Physiology and became involved with athletics at a young age – first as a competitive cross-country skier and later as a junior ski racing coach. My work with adolescent athletes is actually what inspired me to enroll in graduate school for public health. I wanted to learn how I might transfer my knowledge of successful motivational strategies for young ski racers into effective population-level health promotion initiatives.
Through a series of serendipitous events during my graduate studies I had the opportunity to become involved with school food reform and was immediately attracted to the field. School food was the perfect blend of my youth programming background and my public health academics.
TLT: What got you interested in doing the School Food Tour?
The Tour concept developed as I considered fresh ideas that might be integrated into school food reform. Throughout my public health work and research I had noticed an absence of student input about their meals. So in response to this trend I came up with the simple concept of interviewing students and recording their suggestions for school food improvements with the intention of adding these young stakeholders’ unheard voices to the national school food reform movement. However, I soon realized that to document the true diversity of US student opinion I was actually going to have to visit these locations. And what better way to travel from town to town and create enthusiasm for healthy meals than by bike! The Tour has since turned into a comprehensive healthy kids initiative and I am very excited for the opportunity to integrate my passion for two-wheeled travel into the important issue of improving school food.
TLT: What are your goals for the tour? What do you hope to have accomplished by the end of it?
SS: The primary goal of the Tour is to raise public awareness about the importance of providing all students with wholesome school meals and ample opportunities for physical activity. Along the way I aim to inspire youth and communities to become involved in creating healthier school environments.
Even more important than the obvious accomplishment of bicycling across the country, I hope I can say that my visit was the precursor to constructive conversations about how schools can enact tangible change towards healthier kids. I hope that my ride might be the spark that finally motivates individuals to get involved. If I can pedal 6,000+ miles then perhaps speaking up at a school board meeting or riding to school one day a week might not seem so daunting.
I am also looking forward to compiling a comprehensive summary of students’ views on their school food. I feel as though this valuable contribution of youth opinion will assist with the planning of future healthy schools programs.
TLT: What sorts of things will you be doing in the towns and cities in which you’ll stop along the way?
SS: The Tour will feature a variety of interactive sessions for both students and communities. A two-day classroom curriculum is designed to get kids thinking about how they can take action to improve their personal health, school food and physical activity settings. Community group bike rides will provide youth and adults with an opportunity to pedal together and will highlight both the enjoyment and utility of cycling. Additionally I plan to visit local farms in order to gain a more complete grasp on the area’s agriculture. I hope that this combination of activities connects community leaders young and old and leaves advocates energized and eager to initiate further healthy kids programming.
The Tour will encourage simple, actionable projects that focus on incremental change. An important complement to this message will be the provision of continued follow-up support and resources. I aim to stay connected with each classroom and organization I visit and keep up-to-date on their projects’ progress via my blog.
TLT: How can interested readers participate in the School Food Tour? How can they follow your progress?
SS: There are a number of opportunities for schools, individuals and organizations to get involved with the Tour. Although I have a majority of the Tour scheduled and mapped there are still a few slots available for interested communities. I am looking to connect with schools, farms, nonprofits, bike shops, sponsors and anyone interested in promoting healthy kids. I welcome those located along the Tour route to examine my projected timeline and contact me with inquiries.
I am also excited to announce a new Tour component that I am developing in response to the overwhelming number of requests that I have received for visits: the Virtual School Food Tour. This program will include a series of activities that interested teachers can use to integrate the Tour into their class lessons. The Virtual Tour will allow the kids to track my progress across the country, help them evaluate their surroundings, set goals and connect with me through social media networks.
Once I begin riding this August, readers will be able to track the Tour’s progress at my blog. The site will be filled with photos, video clips and anecdotes from the road. The Tour is also on Twitter (@schoolfoodtour) and Facebook.
TLT: Is there anything else about the School Food Tour you’d like to add for Lunch Tray readers?
SS: Well first of all, thanks so much for your interest in the School Food Tour!
I would just like to add that I believe each and every one of us can contribute valuable insight to the youth wellness movement. I have chosen to organize the School Food Tour, but one girl riding her bike across the country will not revolutionize our school food alone. Find your passion and ride with me, in your own unique way, as we roll towards healthier students in America.
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Many thanks to Sara for sharing her story with The Lunch Tray. We wish you the best of luck on your School Food Tour!