By Ed Bruske
aka The Slow Cook
Ann Cooper, the "renegade chef" and hard-charging nutrition director for Boulder, Co., schools, has teamed up with Whole Foods for something they're calling "The Great American Salad Bar Project," and in the first three weeks they've raised nearly $700,000 for the cause.
The project enables Whole Foods customers across the country to donate money for the effort. Schools can then apply for grants to purchase salad bars. Each salad bar is estimated to cost around $2,500. The project's goal is to raise $750,000 initially and place a salad bar in at least one school within a 50-mile radius of every Whole Foods store in the country.
A Whole Foods spokeswoman on Wednesday said that more than $20,000 so far had been raised in the Washington, D.C. area. Whole Foods is promoting the project on its website.
"School meals should not only provide the nourishment children need to excel throughout the school day, but should also serve as a lesson in making life-long wellness choices," Cooper said in a press release. "Offering salad at lunch helps to provide this lesson and teaches children to include a variety of fresh vegetables, fruit, whole grains and healthy proteins in their diet. The salad bar provides an array of options and allows students to try new items on their own. Often students will make choices from the salad bar and create delicious and colorful dishes to suit their taste."
As part of the project, Cooper's foundation has established an interactive website with a running tally of funds raised and the jurisdictions that have taken the lead. Contributors can make online donations, and schools can call up an electronic application form to apply for a salad bar.
Meanwhile, in San Rafael County, Calif., salad bars are being introduced in all of the elementary schools this fall as part of a major renovation of the district's food program.
Salad bars may be just the thing to attack the childhood obesity epidemic, especially in the wake of a U.S. Department of Agriculture study which finds that students who participate in the federally-subsidized meal program at school are more likely to be overweight.
Researchers analyzed data on more than 13,500 elementary school students. Students were interviewed in kindergarten, first and third grades, and then again in later grades. "The fact that federally funded school lunches contribute to the childhood obesity epidemic is disconcerting, although not altogether surprising," said one of the lead researchers, Daniel L. Millimet of Southern Methodist University.
The study cites data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey taken between 1971 and 1974 and again from 2003 to 2004 that found the prevalence of overweight preschool children ages 2-5 jumped from 5 percent to 13.9 percent. Among school-aged children, it jumped from 4 percent to 18.8 percent for children 6-11; and 6.1 percent to 17.4 percent for those 12-19.
Said Millimet: "First, it is very difficult to plan healthy but inviting school lunches at a low price," Millimet said. "Second, given the tight budgets faced by many school districts, funding from the sales of a la carte lunch items receives high priority."
Millimet said school breakfasts tend to be healthier than lunch or a la carte offerings.
"Technically what is going on is that the federal government establishes nutrition guidelines for lunches and breakfasts if schools wish to receive federal funding," Millimet said. "But there's evidence that school lunches are less in compliance with these guidelines than breakfasts. The other possible issue is that these days schools try to make money from a la carte items at lunch. And it's possible that even if the school lunch is healthy, kids buying lunch are more likely to tack on extra items that are not healthy."
Or could part of the problem be the millions that agribusiness and corporate food interests spend lobbying Congress on child nutrition programs?
The U.S. Senate recently updated its lobbying database, revealing just how much big business has been spending to influence the outcome of legislation such as the re-authorization of the Child Nutrition Act, which funds school meal programs. The big spenders include McDonald's, Cargill, ConAgra, Kellogg, Coca-Cola, Kraft and Nestle.
Coke, for instance, spent more than $2 million lobbying on what it described as "health and nutrition issues including support of the reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act and appropriations for physical education programs.."
You may wonder why the school lunch program is maintained in a perpetual state of poverty, but billion-dollar corporations seem to make out just fine with it. The Senate recently approved a new Child Nutrition Act, adding about six cents for school lunch, hardly more than what the program receives in automatic cost of living adjustments.
The U.S. Army Accession Command announced that it is partnering with something called the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation to fight childhood obesity that is cutting into the available pool of young people available to serve in the armed forces.
Military officials have called obesity a national security issue. “In our recruitment efforts we have found a clear pattern of increased obesity among the nation’s young people – a trend that can hurt many sectors of our society,” said Lt. Gen. Benjamin C. Freakley in a press release. “Like other national institutions, the Army must show leadership in discouraging obesity and encouraging healthier lifestyle choices among the young people who make up America’s future.”
A recent USAAC study found that of the American population aged 17-24, 9.3 million (or 29.3% of that demographic cohort) are unqualified for Military service wholly or partially because they are overweight. Of that population, approximately half are disqualified for being overweight and for additional medical reasons.
Carrot growers are not taking these frightening statistics lying down. They've banded together to mount their first marketing campaign ever, vowing to take on junk food with baby carrots dressed up in all kinds of enticing new packaging.
The new and improved carrots will be sold in Dorito-like bags with hip slogans and out of school vending machines.
"It's not an anti-junk-food campaign," says Jeff Dunn, Bolthouse Farms CEO and a former North America president at Coca-Cola. "It takes a page out of junk food's playbook and applies it to baby carrots."
But the junk food makers refuse to be outdone. Here's a story about how Pepsi markets to kids in school by offering big donations to sports programs in exchange for kids purchasing Freetos, Tostitos and Lays chips. So far, the program, called "Score for Your School," is aimed only at schools in Texas.
"Frito-Lay snacks and high school football are a Texas tradition," said Michael Del Pozzo, director, marketing, Frito-Lay North America. "As high school sports programs face many challenges, we thought this promotion would be an easy and fun way for fans to help. Now, each single purchase can add up for a chance to win up to $10,000 for their school when they go online and 'Score for their School'. "
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