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One Tray at a Time

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Change is a' coming. Slowly, but I see some movement in a positive direction. I always think of the two things that are responsible for the rising rates of obesity in this country and in particular the high rate of childhood obesity: What we eat, and how much we eat.

So, two major issues to tackle: 1) The fact that many kids have access primarily to crappy food filled with additives and the stuff that not only gets you fat, but doesn't trigger the signal to your brain that you are satisfied enough to stop, and 2) The fact that the food industry has been spurred on to keep profit margins by offering quantity vs. quality; how else to explain the 'super-sizing' that has occurred over the last 20 years? Our eyes and stomachs have been trained to experience "a portion" as really double at least, what a portion used to be. No surprise that everyone is getting fatter.

I love the fact that the beverage industry now has a commercial out priding themselves on the zero calorie drinks they are putting in vending machines in schools. Finally enough pressure has been exerted for them to get into the profit game, by trying to sell something that won't contribute to obesity. Bad public image seems to be a motivator.

Thankfully, that image of a corporate entity contributing to the obesity rates; particularly in children, is something that the food industry is beginning to care about partly due to the ongoing work of grassroots organizations and advocacy, and a government that is putting some attention to this matter. Go Michelle, go!

The next big thing to happen is to really address school lunches. There is some controversy over whether kids will choose the 'healthy' option if given a choice, but at the very least, what we do know about eating habits, is that the more your eye and palate get trained in a particularly direction, the more easily that behavior can get trained into you. Basically, if a kid is getting a healthy lunch at school and that is the only option, they are going to get used to that to some degree, and particularly begin to make healthier choices if they are available to them. Or they will start to ask their parents to shop for healthier food, and educate them.

Something we can do aside from feeding our own kids and families healthy food, is to get involved with some grass roots organizations that are having an impact. Right now, Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Kathleen Merrigan is taking Farm to School videos on the road to demonstrate the advocacy work going on right now around Child Nutrition Reauthorization. The video is on Youtube.

Given that the Child Nutrition Act determines what more than 30 million children eat at school five days a week, 180 days a year, schools meals can be a critical entry point for improving children's health and should include provisions for Farm to School programs in order to combat obesity and raise a healthy generation. "Lunch Encounters of the Third Kind," a spoof of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and "Priceless: School Lunch," a MasterCard parody, were created by three of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy's Food and Society Fellows, Shalini Kantayya, Nicole Betancourt and Debra Eschmeyer, to raise awareness of Farm to School programs for the upcoming reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act.

One Tray is a national campaign to improve child nutrition by encouraging a more direct connection between local farms and schools through federal nutrition policy. They have launched a petition to Congress urging support for Farm to School policy. One Tray also has produced two short videos depicting the cafeteria tray as the centerpiece for a reformed school food system that supports healthy children, local farms and smart schools.

Parent Earth uses online video to help parents shop, cook, grow and eat good healthy food with their kids. Parent Earth seeks out partnership opportunities with like-minded organizations and companies to create video campaigns with a goal of improving the quality of the food our children eat and creating a better world for them to grow up in.

"These videos were filmed in my daughter's public school lunchroom. When my kids ask me 'What's for dinner, Mom?' I know the answer is connected to their health, our local economy and health care," stated Nicole Betancourt, Founder of Parent Earth. "When I feed my kids, I think about their future, and I expect Congress to do the same. We hope that these videos will mobilize parents around the country to take a stand for Farm to School."

We are not powerless. We really can do something to shift the direction of terrible health and massive medical bills, by getting Congress to shift the subsidies toward healthier food production and distribution.

For more information, go to the websites listed, or visit me at: www.donnafish.com

Happy eating!

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