Advocating for Healthy Food in NY Schools

11/03/2010 01:11 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Meg Wolff One-legged, two-time survivor, healthy cook


I attended The Art Of Healthy School Food last month at the Peter Max Art Studio in New York City, a fundraiser for the NY Coalition For Healthy School Food. NYCHSF is a non-profit group of concerned citizens who have banded together to help get delicious and healthy plant-based food into the school lunch program and to positively impact all food served in schools, not just the cafeteria.

Bart Potenza (who graciously provided a recipe for my new, soon-to-be-released cookbook) and Joy Pierson (Board Chair of NYCHSF), owners of the famous Candle Cafe and Candle 79 in NYC are two of these many people who are helping to make a huge difference!

We all love our children, that's pretty much a given. We work hard to take care of them and make sure they have things like health care, car seats, good schools to learn, school sports, but then ... we feed them unhealthy food? Yes, we do. And many of us are unaware of it, but that's what it is. Food that is high in fat, sugar and salt, and low in fiber, and highly processed and chemicalized. And on top of this ... in most cities, it's school sanctioned.

Well, this is not the case in New York City schools where they've worked to change this! Their food is not that high fat, has no chemical colors, flavors, preservatives or transfats. NYC schools have made many changes and haven't had any chemical additives for years and they use all whole grains. And NYCHSF has been working to promote made from scratch entrees that are plant-based, nutrient-dense and high fiber to add to their menus.

Here are some facts from the NYCHSF website:

• 68 percent of adults in the United States are overweight or obese (34 percent overweight, 34 percent obese)
~ Centers for Disease Control

• 34 percent of children in New York state are overweight or obese.
~ New York State Health Commissioner Richard Daines, M.D.

• 50 percent of children between the ages of 2-15 have fatty streaks in their arteries, literally the beginning stages of heart disease.
~ Bogalusa Heart Study

• 33 percent of children born in 2000 will develop Type 2 diabetes at some point in their lives. For African Americans and Latinos, the numbers rise to a frightening 40-53%. This means more blindness, amputations, kidney dialysis, heart disease, poor quality of life, and early death.
~ Centers for Disease Control

• 35 percent of all cancer deaths are caused by diet (and 33 percent are caused by tobacco). We already have the solution to 68 percent of cancer deaths -- and it is called prevention.
~ Doll and Peto, Journal of the National Cancer Institute ~ American Cancer Society

• One hot dog or two slices of bologna a week are enough to increase colorectal cancer risk by 30-50 percent in adult women, and children are more susceptible to carcinogens than adults. ~ American Cancer Society, News Center: Eating Lots of Red Meat Linked to Colon Cancer

~Journal of the American Medical Association, Meat Consumption and Risk of Colorectal Cancer

~World Cancer Research Fund and American Institute for Cancer Research -- Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity, and the Prevention of Cancer

Please don't throw up your hands and say it's too hard, or it's scary, or say you can't do it. Because, there is a LOT we CAN do, starting in our own schools and homes! It's the future of our children and if we really want the best for them, food is the foundation for their health and well being.

It's not going to get any better unless we take action to make it better. So where do we start? Here are some great ideas I read about on the NYCHSF website to change the food in your school, and another on the T. Colin Campbell Foundation website to change your own school lunches:

As Dr. T. Colin Campbell, a visionary who was given an award at the NYCHSF Fall Fundraiser for his courage, integrity and his life-time research to benefit humanity wrote:

"Sometimes the most elegant solution is the most simple. Why plant-based nutrition? Why not? Why develop heart disease? Cancer? Diabetes? The epidemic of chronic, degenerative disease that is sweeping the western world can not only be stopped, it can be reversed. The power lies in the hands of the consumer, in the choices we make about what to put on our plates."

So, get started today! Even if it's only one small change. Just do it, because there is a LOT you CAN DO! Starting with Breakfast. Lunch. Dinner!

Have you made big or small changes towards a plant-based way of eating? Or, just adding more vegetables to your diet? How do you feel? Your children or your students? I'm interested in hearing about your experiences!

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