Food for Thought
Because the AP story raised such a firestorm, the Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack felt he had to respond. First, he sent a letter to House Education and Labor Committee chairman George Miller (D-Calif.) assuring him that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) had no intention of banning bake sales. Then, the department sent out an email to reporters, in an effort to counteract all of the false information.
The email, quoting from Vilsack's letter, stated: “USDA agrees with and respects the intent of Congress to permit exemptions for school-approved fund-raisers—including bake sales or other occasional or infrequent fund-raisers.”
Lost in all the noise over brownies are some other excellent provisions in this bill that no one seems to have noticed, including:
• Grants to establish an organic food program for schools, a pilot farm-to-school program, development of school gardens, and programs ensuring for availability of potable water in schools (believe it or not, some schools have no drinking fountains)
• Reducing the red tape that made it difficult for low-income children to get free lunch
• Additional training for the lunch ladies who serve some of the abominable food kids have to eat
• An increase in funds (though not by much) for the food itself, for the first time in 30 years.
WHAT IT MEANS: In her remarks Monday morning, Mrs. Obama put the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act in perspective this way: "I think that parents have a right to expect that their efforts at home won’t be undone each day in the school cafeteria or in the vending machine in the hallway. I think that our parents have a right to expect that their kids will be served fresh, healthy food that meets high nutritional standards." She also made the point that, while it might seem counterintuitive, child hunger and child obesity are really just two sides of the same coin. "Both rob our children of the energy, the strength, and the stamina they need to succeed in school and in life," she said. "And that, in turn, robs our country of so much of their promise. "
Here are some steps you can take to bring better nutrition to your child's school:
• Make your voice heard. The USDA has a year in which to write the rules, and there will be a comment period during which the public can tell USDA just what it thinks. Since it is pretty likely that the anti-anything-government side will deluge USDA with comments protesting its efforts to improve the quality of school food, parents who want their children to eat more healthfully should rally like-minded people to send in comments (keep an eye on USDA.gov for the opening of the comment period, or look for more stories on Rodale.com).
• Rethink bake sales. Instead of planning bake sales—if your local school district hasn't already eliminated them—look for alternative fund-raisers. They usually raise more money than a bake sale anyway; check CSPInet.org for other fund-raising ideas. And see our story on school bake sales for suggestions to make bake sales healthier.
• Know what's on the menu. Make sure you're aware of what's being served at your child's school. If you don’t think it's healthy enough, complain. Remember to keep tabs on the fund-raisers and birthday celebrations, as well as breakfast and lunch menus. See our story on communicating with the school's food team for tips on getting your message heard.