With Labor Day upon us and parents all over the East End scrambling to buy notebooks and binders, back packs and new shoes in preparation for the first day of school, there is one other bit of back to school housekeeping that we feel is worth mentioning.
School lunches have long been a part of the American educational experience, thanks to the Child Nutrition Act which, since Lyndon B. Johnson’s presidency, has ensured that children don’t go hungry during the school day. For a couple dollars a day, parents can send their children to school knowing they are getting a nutrionally sound meal in the middle of their busy day.
Or are they?
The fact of the matter is, parents would be pretty shocked if they saw what most kids in this country really eat for lunch — especially at schools receiving public money. You would think that federally funded food programs would provide kids with healthy, balanced meals. But guess what? Right now, the standards are pretty low. Processed chicken nuggets, fat infested fries, hamburgers made from meat that comes from who-knows-where, greasy chips and easy access to soda machines. No wonder there is an obesity and diabetes epidemic among young people in this country today.
Schools that accept federal money often have to take advantage of the food products provided them through their program — and in these budget-conscious days when everyone is stretching those ever-shrinking dollars, chances are, if there actually is a vegetable or a carton of milk on a student’s tray, it was likely produced long ago and far away using pesticides or artificial growth hormones.
Why are our kids being fed this way? Because it’s cheap and easy. That’s why. But guess what. We live on the East End of Long Island — alongside some of the most fertile farmland in the country (never mind that most of it is now in the backyards of weekenders – but that’s another editorial). Food grown locally and largely organically has become a way of life for most of us out here — picked up at weekly farmer’s markets or farm stands that are just a short drive (or walk or bike ride) away. The buy local, eat local trend has also breathed new life into the next generation of farmers here, ensuring that they will be able to stay and till the earth like their parents and grandparents before them.
So why is it as soon as we plunk the kids back in school, it’s OK to start them back on the processed food treadmill?
Quite frankly, it isn’t. Which is why the East End Slow Food chapter is hosting an “Eat In” potluck on Labor Day at the Bridgehampton School. Participants are encouraged to bring a dish made with local ingredients. Similar eat ins are being held nationwide on Monday and with them, Slow Food hopes to send a message to Congress encouraging them to update the standards of the Child Nutrition Act, which expires this fall. By updating, they mean getting real food into the hands and stomachs of our ever-expanding students’ bodies.
Slow Food USA describes real food as “food that is good at every link in the chain. It tastes good, it’s good for us, it’s good for the people who grow it, it’s good for our country and it’s good for the planet.”
Amen. Let’s eat!