“Homicide is 0.8% of deaths. Diet related disease is over 60%, but no one talks about it.”
~ Jamie Oliver
Diet has been connected to a variety of diseases and death in the United States. The Scientific American reported that many school cafeterias offer school lunches that are no more nutritious than a fast food chain. A 2008 analysis of school lunches by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) concluded that American kids consume very few fruits and vegetables in their cafeterias. As per the same study, it was revealed that potatoes made up a third of all vegetables consumed. A 2009 study by USA Today found that meat used by McDonald’s and Burger King was tested for bacteria and unsafe pathogens up to 10 times as much as meat headed to U.S. school cafeterias. I went to school for over twenty years and have broken bread in a variety of cafeterias. Several of the items I sampled were quickly discarded because of taste, excessive salt, cardboard texture, and other unsavory reasons. And at this point, most people know that chicken nuggets (a school cafeteria favorite) have some meat but also often contain an ensemble of pure fat, blood vessels, pieces of bone, nerves and cartilage. And that does not even include possible additives.
Unfortunately, it seems that many school lunch programs use food that is processed, genetically modified, and is dominated by high-starch ingredients. However, there is a light at the end of this tunnel. I am so appreciative of the efforts to provide free and reduced lunch programs. It is so important to remember that there are countries that are not able to feed their children the way we are. I am so proud of Wisconsin, New York, and California for initiating and promoting organic lunch programs. These states are encouraging school programs to partner with local farmers and local organic community gardens in the effort to teach students about organic farming, healthy eating choices, and provide them clean and organic food; the fuel they require for the cognitive demands placed on them in educational environments. Furthermore, there are certain food companies (i.e. Stonyfield Farm—Yogurt Company) that are offering vending machines with “organic only” snack options.
Why do I feel so passionate about this? Because I work with children all the time and want to see schools better prioritize physical and emotional wellness over test scores and blue ribbon ratings. How can we expect our children to be healthy without clean and nutritious food options? How can we expect our children to effectively learn without proper healthy nutrition? Why are many public school programs so focused on preparation for standardized tests when many of them are serving the equivalent of fast food? Why is it the European Union requires that when foods include certain food additives, it must also include the statement: “may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children.”
I encourage all parents to get involved, stay involved, and advocate for your child’s health. Physical and emotional wellness far surpasses the importance of academic success. And in fact, improved academic success will become far more likely when physical and emotional balance is better established.