Thursday, November 26, 2009

Food Fight

My current line of work involves visiting high schools and talking about university admissions and programs. While most of my high school visits entail a classroom presentation in front of students or discussion with a guidance counselor, I sometimes get the opportunity to meet students in the cafeteria during lunch room sessions. It's places like these where I get really passionate about holistic health and food quality.

This semester I surveyed several school food menus. They included:

French fries
Pepperoni and cheese pizza
Chicken caesar and ham/cheese salads
Coldcuts/sandwich station
Chicken fingers
Cheese sauce
Soft pretzels
Juice and fruit drinks

Some of the schools also had an adjoining snack bar for chips and candy. There may have been fruit but I really can't remember. I sure hope there was something remotely healthy!

This set-up and menu reminded me of my high school's offerings...10 years ago! Soft pretzels were uber affordable and, to my limited judgement in food choices, were not going to make me fat. I consumed them regularly for lunch, not yet realizing that there was more to the health equation than just calories. Laffy Taffys topped off the "meal." I'm a little nauseas just thinking about it.

As I sat in the cafeterias I wondered how the students felt after eating the "food" they purchased. Did they feel energized? Did they feel irritable? With record cases of childhood obesity, diabetes, and other chronic illnesses, I wondered how such products could be so widely distributed. Yes, students can choose to eat or not eat these foods. They can pack lunch. But when virtually all food being sold in a school lunch program are nutritionally deficient what message is being sent to the consumers of that food?

How many of us would seriously choose a piece of fruit or salad over a cornucopia of processed foods? From what I saw there were few healthy food options in site. Shouldn't it be the other way around?

Two Angry Moms is a documentary that explores this very issue. It highlights the importance of a school's role in promoting healthy eating initiatives. Wholesome bagged lunches appear to be no match for the temptations available in schools. School food reform is essential to helping youth with good eating habits and preventing diet-related illnesses.

Two Angry Moms has a website with a variety of links on food politics, health, and revolutionary school lunch programs. I also stumbled upon the Real Food Challenge, an inspiring organization comprised of college students who are reforming food services in higher education. Check them out!