BY SHARON MARTIN
The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 was signed into law by President Obama in mid-December. Its twin goals are to provide healthier foods for the school lunch program and to fight childhood obesity. It commits $4.5 billion to the program over the next10 years, about six cents per meal. Yep, six cents.
Even that was too much for three of Oklahoma’s Congressmen. Frank Lucas, John Sullivan, and Tom Cole all voted against the bill. Gov.-elect Fallin didn’t vote at all. The naysayers cried about lack of accountability, but this isn’t exactly a windfall for school lunchrooms. At six cents a meal, a rural school that makes 200 lunches will get an extra $12 a day to buy more fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy products. Will $12 buy 200 carrots? One hundred oranges? I’m thinking a little magic will have to be involved here. Legislators warn that the money will come from agriculture. If lunchroom managers buy from local farmers, this act serves both farms and children. The corn ethanol program need not suffer.
When I started teaching school, a pair of sisters, Rita Matherly and Brenda Grisham, ran the middle school lunchroom. The salad bar contained hand-cut vegetables and homemade salads. In season, there were watermelon and cantaloupe. The smell of homemade bread filled the halls two or three days a week.
Health cannot be separated from education. Students learn not only what is presented from textbooks but from the examples set by school staff. These extraordinary lunch ladies taught essential lessons about nutrition and about caring in the meals they prepared. There were a variety of foods from which to choose and seconds for the kids who needed them.
I’m still not sure how they managed it on the piddling amount of money allocated for the school lunch program. Much of what is served in places can’t even be classified as food. It isn’t just poor lunchroom management, either. It takes real money to buy real food.
Cheap, industrial food makes learning difficult in the present and robs children of healthy futures. Coupled with cuts in physical education programs, these faux foods are the leading cause of childhood obesity and the diabetes epidemic.
Creative school cooks will do the best they can with what they get from our legislators, mostly lip service. The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 is a start, but our well-fed representatives need to quit their nay-saying and do even more.
– Sharon Martin lives in Oilton, OK and is a regular contributor to The Oklahoma Observer