By Janet Poppendieck
Child Nutrition Reauthorization legislation, the legislation that will control school food and other child nutrition programs for the next five years, is wending its way through Congress. Now is the time to tell your senators and representatives what you want to see as an end result. Now is the time to ask for enough money to do the job right.
I'm sure many readers are old hands at communicating with Congress. But for those who are not, here are some tips. If you are uncertain about just who your legislators are, you can find out by entering your zip code into designated box on the web site called Contacting Congress. Then, you can go directly to a form for submitting an e-mail to a member of the House, and to your Senators.
You don't have to draft the legislation for them; that is their job. You just have to tell them: 1) what you want, 2) how important it is to you, 3) and why it is important—and remind them to put enough money in the bill to make achievement of these ends possible.
The best letters (e-mails, faxes) are the ones that tell a personal story. "I was upset when I learned that my child's middle school hallways are full of vending machines," or "Last year three high school students in our community were killed driving back to school from lunch at the local gas station convenience store," or "Our family is eligible for free lunches, but my older boys won't eat them because they are embarrassed; in their school the kids with money buy in cash from the a la carte line and the main line is regarded as 'only for poor kids.'" Or "I'm trying to promote healthy eating in my family by encouraging my children to eat more whole, unprocessed foods, and I feel undermined when I see all the packaged goods in the school breakfast program." Or even, "I've been reading the this blog for the past month, and I know we can do better."
The most important thing is to send a message—you don't have to be an expert. Congress can consult any experts it wants. Just make your priorities heard: — ending hunger through better access, healthier food, local procurement, or better care for the environment, whatever is most important to you. The more people who write, and the more often we write, the greater the buzz and feeling of momentum, and the more likely that Congress will find the resources to do what needs to be done. While it is especially important to contact the members of the next body to take up Child Nutrition Reauthorization, the House Education and Labor Committee, (and you can find out who they are by consulting FRAC's up to date Congressional Directory), all of our members need to hear from us.
If you do want to know more about the problems and promise of food in our schools, of course I'd recommend reading my book, Free for All :Fixing School Food in America. It was written precisely in the hope of empowering the movement for feeding our children better. You can also find out a lot more about current programs and pending legislation (and see sample e-mails and letters) at any and all of the following web sites: The Food Research and Action Center, the Community Food Security Coalition, California Food Policy Advocates, the One Tray Coalition, the Healthy Schools Campaign, and the New York City Alliance for Child Nutrition Reauthorization. Many of these web sites provide pre-prepared letters that you can send, though writing your own has more impact.
But you don't need to read the book or pour over web sites to write to Congress. If you've been following this blog, you know what you want. Now is the time to speak up.
Janet Poppendieck is author of Free for All: Fixing School Food in America. This essay is re-posted from the Fed Up with School Lunch blog, with permission of the author.
6 months ago