THE BLOG
10/23/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Getting Serious About School Lunch: Eat-Ins Sweep The Nation This Labor Day

It was 63 years ago when President Truman signed the School
Lunch Act.  At the signing ceremony
he said, "In the long view, no nation is healthier than its children, or more
prosperous than its farmers."  If
that was a statement of purpose rather than a mere rhetorical flourish, then
the School Lunch Act has failed.

Today in America we have steadily rising rates of childhood
obesity and early-onset diabetes, so much so that if you were born after 2000,
you have a startling one-in-three chance of developing diabetes before you're
old enough to vote.  If you're a
minority, that number rises to one-in-two.  Meanwhile America now has more prisoners than farmers, and
among those few remaining farmers the average age is 57.1 and rising.  The equation becomes quite simple to
understand: No farmers = no food.

In an effort to raise awareness and rally support behind
changes to the upcoming reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act, Slow Food
USA has created The Time
for Lunch Campaign
.  The idea
is to call on Congress to provide the resources schools need to serve real
food
for lunch.  Those involved in making the day-to-day dietary decisions
for our children do not have the adequate resources to provide healthy,
nutritious, and yes tasty, food for our kids.  This must change. 
It's time to invest in children's health, protect against food that puts
children at risk, create green jobs and teach children healthy habits that will
last through life.

As is typical of Slow Food though, this is no dry academic
exercise, nor another attempt to raise money to pay lobbyists to buy
congressmen.  Born of the success
of one particular event during Slow Food Nation last year, SFUSA is bringing us
the Eat-In.  In all 50 states,
local Slow Food members and friends of the organization have put together more
than 300 grassroots potluck picnics to occur simultaneously on September 7th,
Labor Day.

Think of an Eat-In as the marriage of the traditional picnic
to the classic activism of the 1960's Sit-Ins; this is old-fashioned activism
with a hot dish to share.  From
Bellingham to Bay St. Louis, Carlsbad to Cambridge, people will gather with
their friends and neighbors to show their support for getting real food in
schools.

Everyone is welcome at the Eat-Ins.  Bring some food to share, preferably
something homemade with local, sustainably produced ingredients.  It's also a good idea to bring reusable
table settings to cut down on waste. 
Most of all bring your activism: sign the petition, write a letter, make
a phone call to your senators and representatives and ask them to commit to the
platform of this National Day of Action
(pdf)

As of this writing, more than 13,000 people have signed the petition
to get real food in schools.  All
of this is based on Slow Food's grassroots effort to create a food system that
is "Good, Clean, and Fair" - our current industrialized food system is none of
these things.  Good means that it
tastes, good, is good for you and good for the earth.  Clean means that there is nothing in the food that isn't
food (and if it wasn't food 100 years ago, it isn't food now).  And Fair means that the people
producing the food should be justly compensated for their efforts.

In partnership
with Sustainable Table, The Center for Ecoliteracy, Roots of Change, Edible Communities and many
other worthy organizations
, Slow Food is calling on Congress, during its
reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act, to put real food
on our children's lunch trays.

 

Now of course there will be people saying, "I don't want the
government telling my kids what to eat." 
Well, very sorry to break the news, but the government already does
that, and none of it is good for the kids.  America's agricultural policy (all we have in lieu of a
cohesive food policy), is designed around a "quantity-trumps-quality,
get-big-or-get-out" mentality that forces all of us, especially on the lower
economic wrungs (big surprise, that), to eat pounds of empty calories, which in
turn has led directly to America's epidemics of diabetes, obesity, heart
disease and stroke.

For a serious down payment on health care reform, we must
improve the meals that 30 million American kids eat every day.  If we don't, no amount of legislation
will keep the fallout from bankrupting whatever health care system we end up
with.