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Food Served in Schools Sucks
April 18th, 2010

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Dear John,

Is anybody doing anything to change the food in schools? It’s terrible. Last week I took my 8-year-old to a school picnic. It was a lovely day, but they served bologna and cheese sandwiches on white bread, with mayonnaise. Plus cookies and ice cream. And, of course, enormous plastic jugs of Coke. In class, pupils earn credits for good behavior, which they can use to get candy and Cokes. Help!

Frieda

Dear Frieda,

My, oh my. That is a shame. Maybe you and your child could wear one of the T-shirts to school that says “If you love me, don’t feed me junk food.” I wish these parents and teachers and administrators could understand what they are doing to the precious children in their care.

Fortunately, there are some people trying to change things. The chairperson of the Senate Agriculture Committee, Senator Tom Harkin, has proposed that the government subsidize the cost of giving away fruit and vegetables in school cafeterias as an alternative to candy and snacks that are sold in vending machines.

Los Angeles Unified School District, which has 748,000 students on its 677 campuses, prohibits carbonated drink sales at elementary schools. And recently, the board of the nation’s second-largest school district extended the ban, effective January, 2004, to also include the district’s approximately 200 middle and high schools. The Board voted unanimously for this step, despite the vehement opposition of the National Soft Drink Association.

Up until now, most Los Angeles Unified Schools have relied on soda sales to fund student activities such as sports and field trips. Sodas sold in vending machines and student stores have generated an annual average profit of $39,000 per high school.

Wouldn’t it make far more sense to fund our schools adequately in the first place, so they don’t have to sell soft drinks and other junk food to cover their costs?

Change is painfully slow, but it is starting. In 2001, Berkeley, California, schools went all organic. In 2002, the Oakland school district banned vending machines, candy, soda pop and other junk food from its campuses. In the fall of 2002, Palo Alto (California) Unified School District went all organic.

I know it’s frustrating seeing the junk kids all-too-often eat in schools. But here’s a recent report about how things can indeed change, written by Jon Rappaport, titled “A Miracle In Wisconsin”…

In Appleton, Wisconsin, a revolution has occurred. It’s taken place in the Central Alternative High School. The kids now behave. The hallways aren’t frantic. Even the teachers are happy.The school used to be out of control. Kids packed weapons. Discipline problems swamped the principal’s office. But not since 1997.

What happened? Did they line every inch of space with cops? Did they spray valium gas in the classrooms? Did they install metal detectors in the bathrooms? Did they build holding cells in the gym?

Afraid not. In 1997, a private group called Natural Ovens began installing a healthy lunch program. Huh?

Fast-food burgers, fries, and burritos gave way to fresh salad and whole grain bread. Fresh fruits were added to the menu. Good drinking water arrived. Vending machines were removed.

As reported in a newsletter called Pure Facts, “Grades are up, truancy is no longer a problem, arguments are rare, and teachers are able to spend their time teaching.”

Principal LuAnn Coenen, who files annual reports with the state of Wisconsin, has turned in some staggering figures since 1997. Drop-outs? Students expelled? Students discovered to be using drugs? Carrying weapons? Committing suicide? Every category has come up ZERO. Every year.

Mary Bruyette, a teacher, states, “I don’t have to deal with daily discipline issues…I don’t have disruptions in class or the difficulties with student behavior I experienced before we started the food program.”

One student asserted, “Now that I can concentrate I think it’s easier to get along with people…” What a concept—eating healthier food increases concentration.

Principal Coenen sums it up: “I can’t buy the argument that it’s too costly for schools to provide good nutrition for their students. I found that one cost will reduce another. I don’t have the vandalism. I don’t have the litter. I don’t have the need for high security.”

At a nearby middle school, the new food program is catching on. A teacher there, Dennis Abram, reports, “I’ve taught here almost 30 years. I see the kids this year as calmer, easier to talk to. They just seem more rational. I had thought about retiring this year and basically I’ve decided to teach another year—I’m having too much fun!”

Pure Facts, the newsletter that first ran this story, is published by the non-profit Feingold Association. In my book Reclaiming Our Health, I write extensively about the Feingold Association, and the dramatic decrease in delinquency, ADD, ADHD, and Ritalin use that occurs when kids are shifted to a healthier diet. You can get a copy through this website.

Thanks for caring,

And hang in there….

John

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