I’ve been so surprised by the outpouring of support in response to my post yesterday, which explained why I decided to step down from Houston ISD’s Nutrition Services Parent Advisory Committee after serving on it for the last six years. The post continues to be shared on social media and was also reprinted online yesterday in the Houston Chronicle.
Thanks to the always-excellent Chronicle columnist Lisa Gray, the headline of the Chronicle post – I Fought Sugar in HISD Breakfasts. Sugar Won – is much catchier than the pedestrian headline I used on my blog. But maybe because of that headline, and likely also because of the photo I included in the post of a particularly sugar-loaded 2015 HISD breakfast, I feel like the conversation has shifted in a way I wasn’t expecting. The discussion online seems to be focusing on sugar per se and my feelings about it – as if I just couldn’t countenance the number of sugar grams in HISD breakfasts for one more minute, threw up my hands and marched off the committee in a huff.
So today I wanted to clarify a few things:
HISD’s breakfasts are much too high in sugar, to be sure, but they are not outliers. If you haven’t read my 2015 Civil Eats piece on sugary school breakfasts, I hope you’ll take a minute to do so. There I explain the many factors, including chronic federal underfunding and quirks in the federal rules (such as no requirement that protein be offered, and the allowance of juice as a substitute for half of kids’ fruit quota), which incentivize districts around the country to serve breakfasts nearly identical to the ones served in my district.
If anything, as a result of all the research I did for Civil Eats, I’m probably far less critical than most parents and advocates when it comes to sugar and school breakfast. Sure, I was really angry to learn that HISD had reneged on certain express promises to the PAC about lowering sugar content. But at the same time, I’m still able to appreciate the things they have done, like incorporating in the menu more protein items such as cheese sticks and sourcing lower-sugar juice.
It’s true that my decision to resign yesterday was a hasty one and that it was prompted by receiving a texted photo of an HISD breakfast containing Craisins, which we’d been told were a thing of the past. But the Craisins were just the catalyst I needed to do something I’d been mulling over all summer.
As I explained yesterday, I was gratified to be allowed to remain on the PAC this year even though my kids are now in private school. But that felt a little sneaky and wrong, too, because PAC’s charter expressly states the committee is only for parents with children in the district. Much more importantly, though, I was starting to feel that I could be more forceful in my advocacy if I had some distance from the district’s employees, especially when they do things like renege on express commitments to the PAC.
It was for those two reasons that I stepped down, not because I felt somehow defeated by the sugar levels in the district’s school breakfasts.
Thanks to those who offered some really kind words yesterday, and I can assure you that my leaving the PAC doesn’t mean I’ve lost interest in school food reform! If anything, I hope this decision will help me become a more effective advocate for our kids.
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