Sunday, March 7, 2010

Potpourri: School Food News Roundup

By Ed Bruske
aka The Slow Cook

As a preamble to the upcoming D.C. Environmental Film festival, the Warner Theater on Tuesday, March 9, will be screening What's on Your Plate?, a documentary that follows two 11-year-olds in New York City over the course of a year as they talk to farmers, storekeepers, food activists and friends to discover where their food comes from.

Sadie and Safiya examine the struggles of modern farmers, sustainable agriculture practices and how many miles food travels before it ends up on their plates. A discussion with the two stars of the film, as well as a representative of Food and Water Watch, follows the screening. Check here for ticket information.

Then on March 22, the short documentary Lunch will make its D.C. debut. This film focuses on the national school lunch program as served in the Baltimore City schools. It will be shown jointly with the documentary Potato Heads, about the cultivation of potatoes in the place of the tuber's origin--the Andes mountains--as well as the U.S. , to be followed by a discussion with the maker of both films, Larry Engel.


If you're still in the mood for cinema, here's a 1966 film from the USDA--It Happens Every Noon--about the national school lunch program. It certainly looks a little dated at first, with it's overly "hip" soundtrack to go with footage of a suburban U.S. middle school. But stay with it, because there are some truly poignant scenes of school lunch in rural American, for instance, where teacher stops at a country store for groceries, then kids help put the meal together using a hot plate in the rear of their tiny, wooden schoolhouse.

Although we are often disturbed by the woeful quality of school food, this film makes the a valid point: some children would be hungry were it not for the government-sponsored meals they receive at school. The film looks at urban schools where the lunch ladies pack cheese and bologna sandwiches into paper bags at a central kitchen, and shows kids eating at their desks because the schools have neither kitchen nor dining facilities.


Marion Nestle reports that the issue of childhood obesity is being covered in a number of journals and media outlets, including an entire issue of Health Affairs. Check out her blog here for details.


Helene York of Bon Appetit food management company in Palo Alto, California, this week posted a column about the many ways of incorporating local farm goods into school meals. Check it out here at the Atlantic online food forum.


A reporter for the Chicago Tribune paid a visit to a local school cafeteria and was shocked to see how much food was being thrown away. Here's her account.


Finally, a high school in Lawrenceville, Georgia, gets vending machines that dispense "healthy" meals that qualify for federal subsidies. Previously the school was unable to participate in the national school lunch program because the school had neither a kitchen nor a cafeteria. The students were forced to eat off-campus or bring food from home. Now they can buy a complete lunch for $2.

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