THE BLOG
09/24/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Feeding Kids (Real) Food

Following the Congressional recess, not only will the health care debate be on the docket, so will the Reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act. Across the country, people are pushing for higher quality food for their kids during the school day. Such groups as Farm to School, School Food FOCUS and School Lunch Talk are all promoting better-quality, fresher, more nutritious whole foods on school menus.

Last week, the Huffington Post's Green Page featured this story by Kurt Michael Friese on Grist discussing Slow Food USA's Time For Lunch campaign, promoting a healthier school lunch regimen for the nation's students.

In his article, Friese said:

If we move lunch away from the maintenance side of the equation and over to the curriculum, food will gain the attention that is necessary for it to demonstrate its own importance. We cannot continue to teach one thing in health class and peddle another in the lunch room.

The Chicago chapter of Slow Food USA, Slow Food Chicago, is hosting an Eat-In on Wednesday, August 26 as part of the Time For Lunch campaign. The Eat-In, geared toward anyone interested in child nutrition, will begin with music at around 11:00 a.m. with the first speaker beginning at 11:30. Guests are encouraged to bring their lunch to Daley Plaza or pre-order one to pick up.

I sat down recently with Lynn Peemoeller, president of Slow Food Chicago, and she said the event is meant to get people together to eat lunch and listen to different speakers regarding the importance of improving child nutrition. "Having citizens care about a federally funded policy that seems so far away from us, engaging people in the policy-making process and having them realize that they can be a part of the debate" are some of the challenges the campaign hopes to overcome, Peemoeller said.

Slow Food USA's platform for their national Time for Lunch campaign, which Slow Food Chicago is promoting at the Eat-In, includes investing in children's health by increasing the reimbursement for a school lunch, protecting against foods that put them at risk, teaching children healthy habits, giving schools incentives to buy local food and creating jobs through a school lunch corps. Peemoeller mentioned that speakers will include Josh Viertel, president of Slow Food USA, as well as a youth representative from Growing Power to discuss the importance of these reform proposals.

This event comes on the heels of a portion of Illinois' stimulus funds going toward new equipment meant to help improve food quality, food safety, energy efficiency or expand participation in the school lunch programs. An Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) press release from July 29 announced further details of the $3.6 million allocated for the improvements in the state.

According to e-mail correspondence with the ISBE, about 40 percent of the funds are for equipment that lends itself to improving the quality of nutrition to meet dietary guidelines. Also, 125 school sites in Chicago are receiving funds for new equipment, totaling over $1.6 million. While the equipment purchases are part of the stimulus plan, they seem designed for the type of reforms Slow Food USA is proposing, such as a School Lunch Corps and increased use of locally grown fruits and vegetables in school cafeterias, potentially multiplying the positive effects of the spending.

"This is our first event in Daley Plaza," Peemoeller said, later noting the significance both to Slow Food USA and Chicago's chapter. "This is our first comprehensive action toward policy change, our first national campaign. The Child Nutrition Act can have a huge impact on children, and this gives us the opportunity to add to the momentum of the large civic engagement the Farm Bill received last year."

Peemoeller said people can get involved by coming to the Eat-In at Daley Plaza on August 26, or by hosting or attending another Eat-In on September 7. The organization is volunteer-run, and people can sign up with the volunteer coordinator at volunteer@slowfoodchicago.org. You can also add your name to the petition supporting the Slow Food Time For Lunch platform. Peemoeller said they are looking to leverage the more than 3,000 members they have in Chicago and to extend that network. "In September, membership for Slow Food Chicago is going to be, 'pay-as-you-wish,'" she added.

The group promotes "food that is good, clean, and fair," said Peemoeller. This conversation ties into the health care reform debate as well. Much of the disease in this country is partially preventable through proper diet and exercise, which means we should be helping by not only teaching proper diet in health class but also by providing healthy examples in the lunchroom.

I asked Peemoeller how she views the Time For Lunch campaign with regards to the national health care debate and she pointed out the staggering statistics of obesity and diabetes in our youth. "Giving kids access to better food and giving them healthy habits for life is relevant to the debate," she pointed out.

Since we can spell out some simple ideals about what makes a healthy meal, then we ought to facilitate our youth meeting some or all of these ideals. Certainly evidence shows that when we provide junk food to school children today it contributes to the problems with their eating habits and to a degree, their ensuing health problems, like obesity and diabetes. Alternatively, giving our kids healthy fresh foods at school stands to set an example of how to form lasting eating habits that can truly have a positive impact on their health.

If you're in Chicago, I hope to see you at the Eat-In this Wednesday at Daley Plaza. Otherwise, check here to find a local Slow Food USA chapter.