Sunday, April 4, 2010

Potpourri: School Food News Roundup

Jamie Oliver continued to rivet television viewers and focus the nation's attention on poor school food with his ABC television series "Food Revolution." The show's premier "produced what's believed to be the top demo rating for any entertainment series on Friday this season, logging the net's best score in the time period in more than three years," according to Variety magazine.

The reality series tracks Oliver as he tries to use better food to reverse the obesity problem in Huntington, W.Va., ranked the unhealthiest city in the U.S. The opening salvo pulled in some seven million viewers, second only to the NCAA basketball tournament. It also got a big writeup in the New York Times in an article surveying the recent explosion of news about school meals.


Already there's a survey out about the results of Jamie Oliver's efforts in Huntington, W.Va., and the results aren't very good. By a whopping 77 percent majority, kids say they "hated" the food and participation in the meal program was down 9 percent.

The survey, conducted by researchers at West Virginia University, posed seven questions to 109 fourth- and fifth-grade students, 35 teachers, six cooks, and the county food service director.

But here's better news for Jamie. A study in Great Britain revealed that the healthier school meals Jamie Oliver introduced there have resulted not only in better academic performance, but also fewer days missed because of illness.


In Chicago, meanwhile, a coalition of high school students went before the board of education to protest what one called the "sickening pizza, chicken sandwiches and nachos" the district serves each day and urge the board not to renew the contract of the school system's food service provider, Chartwells-Thompson. (That's the same food service provider we have here in the District of Columbia). Meanwhile, Chicago school officials announced they were revamping the menu and removing some items--such as Pop-Tarts, doughnuts and cookies--and scaling back the nachos.


In Columbia, Mo., it's third graders who are demanding better food. Students at Lee Elementary School recently wrote letters to their representatives in Congress asking that they replace the warmed-over convenience foods they're being served with something healthier.

“I am concerned about the food because it is not fresh and it is not healthy for us,” one student wrote.

“Please vote to add $1.00 for each students lunch because I want my school to be healthy,” wrote another.

Some schools in Philadelphia are getting extra funds to buy produce as they try to upgrade their meal programs.


In California, a student-run school store watched its sales plummet after a state law banned junk food in school and the store had to abandon its best selling product, AriZona ice teas. The shop is open 30 minutes a day during the school lunch break, and it has made about $6,000 in profit this year. That's compared with $14,000 at this point last year.


A Philadelphia high school teacher dedicated to teaching cooking recently won an entire kitchen makeover from celebrity chef Rachel Ray. Teacher Wilma Stephenson, who has been sending students off to successful culinary careers while laboring in obscurity the last 41 years, is suddenly famous after being immortalized in a 2008 documentary, Pressure Cooker.


A new study from the University of Alabama at Birmingham concludes that a breakfast loaded wit fat and protein is healthiest. Breakfast with too many starchy carbohydrates gets the body's motor running the wrong way, researchers conclude, resulting in metabolic syndrome, a complex of diseases typified by insulin resistance, weight gain, diabetes.


Finally, Ed Bruske at The Slow Cook blog recently wrapped up a three-part series of articles--plus epilogue--detailing how the Washington Jesuit Academy here in the District of Columbia is making meals from scratch using local ingredients as part of their upgraded wellness program.

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