Time for lunch...and a little activism

BlogHer Original Post

I remember a few things about school lunches growing up. I remember that, most of the time, I brought lunch from home rather than eating lunch at school. I remember finding notes from my Mom in my lunch, and how much I both enjoyed and was terribly embarrassed by this fact. (That being said, Mom, thanks for the notes – some days, I wish I could open my little lunch cooler at the office and have one waiting for me!)

And, of all the food I remember, I most recall the weird, greasy rectangles of fairly flavorless “pizza” served up by the Fairfax County Public Schools cafeterias. On the rare days that I actually got to buy lunch, I often chose the pepperoni incarnation of this particularly disgusting “treat,” the pepperoni really more like small dots of processed, brightly-colored, well, I have no idea what they were. They were chunks, and they didn’t really taste like normal pepperoni, and, well, that particular lunch cannot have been good for me.

Sadly, in many cases, kids aren’t eating what’s good for them as part of their school lunches. And with more than 23 million children and adolescents in the United States now reported as obese or overweight, school lunches provide an opportunity to improve kids’ nutrition and overall health.

When it comes to school lunches, there is a growing movement of activists trying to make a difference for kids who eat lunch at school. In 1995, Alice Waters pioneered the Edible Schoolyard project, which give kids at Martin Luther King, Jr. Middle School in Berkeley, Calif., the opportunity to learn how to garden and cook the food they grow. Tammy Donroe talked about this program, and the debate that surrounds it, just a few months ago here on BlogHer.

"Man, I love a great idea," said Emily of Wide Open Spaces, who just picked up a copy of Waters' book about the program this year. "And in my opinion, this is one great idea."  Faith, of Acts of Faith in Love and Life, agrees with Emily, calling the program revolutionary and practical

These programs are not, by any means, relegated to the United States. "Outside of a wonderful place for the children to romp about and view
from inside, it is clear that these gardens are used as a teaching tool," wrote Fran of Gardening Gone Wild about a school garden she knows in Israel. "A fun place to be, digging in the dirt, planting things and watching them grow? Oh yeh (sic)!"

And in states from Washington to Florida, school districts are participating in farm-to-school programs, which connect local farmers with schools. The locally-farmed food is then served in school cafeterias. More than 2,000 such programs are in place around the country, with that number increasing every month.

This year, Slow Food USA has launched the Time for Lunch campaign, which aims to bring good, clean, fair food to children eating lunch at school. On Labor Day, September 7, Slow Food USA has asked people to organize “Eat Ins,” potluck meals held in their community to draw attention to the need to make school lunches healthier. " 

As of today, there are 217 Eat Ins planned, with information available on the site for those who want to organize one in their own community. The organization picked Labor Day, which traditionally isn’t a school day in the United States, to honor the workers who plant and harvest the food we eat, and because families and communities can use the holiday to share a meal together. Becky Striepe on Eat. Drink. Better. wrote about the campaign and highlighted the event happening in Atlanta this year, and I was invited to the Eat In in Iowa City, Iowa, which I can't attend, but which will take the form of a fun barbeque in Lower City Park. 

If you have kids, how healthy are the lunches they're served at school? Are your local school districts making changes in the food they serve? And are you participating in an Eat In this year? Share your stories in the comments below.

Genie blogs about gardening and food at The Inadvertent Gardener, and tells very short tales at 100 Proof Stories. She is also documenting her year in photos at 365 in 2009.  

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