The Right to Sell Kids Junk

The First Amendment to the Constitution, which tops our Bill of Rights, guarantees — theoretically, at least — things we all care about. So much is here: freedom of religion, of the press, of speech, the right to assemble and more. Yet it’s stealthily and  incredibly being invoked to safeguard the nearly unimpeded “right” of a handful of powerful corporations to market junk food to children.

It’s been reported that kids see an average of 5,500 food ads on television every year (sounds low, when you think about it), nearly all peddling junk. (They may also see Apple commercials, but not of the fruit kind.) Worse are the online “advergames” that distract kids with entertainment while immersing them in a product-driven environment. (For example: create your own Froot Loops adventure!)

And beyond worse: collecting private data, presumably in order to target children with personalized junk food promotions, as in this Capri Sun advergame, which asks for permission to use your webcam to film you — without first verifying your age.

Read the rest of this column here.

Posted in Food Politics

Dessert for Breakfast

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We all know the importance of real food in the morning: kids who eat high-sugar breakfasts have a harder time in school, and a growing body of research suggests that foods sweetened with sugar or high-fructose corn syrup can be as addictive as nicotine or cocaine. It’s clear, too, that for most of us the eating patterns we develop as children hang around forever.

Every parent of a child born in the United States since 1950 also knows the difficulty of getting that kid to eat a breakfast of real food. This is not a “natural” inclination — no one is born craving Froot Loops or Count Chocula — but one resulting from a bombardment of marketing.

So for more than half a century well-intentioned parents have been torn between their desperation to get their kids to eat something, anything, and the knowledge that most packaged breakfast cereals are little better than cookies.

Read the rest of this column here.

Posted in Food Politics

The Fight Against Childhood Obesity Just Got Some Serious New Foot Soldiers

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FoodCorps, which started last week, is symbolic of just what we need: a national service program that aims to improve nutrition education for children, develop school gardening projects and change what’s being served on school lunch trays.

I’ve been looking forward to this for months, because it’s such an up: 50 new foot soldiers in the war against ignorance in food. The service members, most of them in their 20s, just went to work at 41 sites in 10 states, from Maine to Oregon and Michigan to Mississippi. (FoodCorps concentrates on communities with high rates of childhood obesity or limited access to healthy food, though these days every state has communities like that.)

I’d be even more elated if there were 50 FoodCorps members in each state. Or 5,000 in each, which approaches the number we’re going to need to educate our kids so they can look forward to a lifetime of good health and good eating. But FoodCorps is a model we can use to build upon.

(Read the rest of this article here.)

Posted in Food Politics

San Fran Happy Meals are Getting Sadder

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Some thoughts about the San Francisco proposed ban on toys in Happy Meals unless they meet certain (rather lame, if you ask me) nutritional requirements. It is movement, I suppose, in the right direction, but 35 percent of calories from fat isn’t exactly low, and if the fat comes from eggs or “low-fat” cheese, it’s exempt, so I could envision such a meal easily containing 50 percent of calories from fat. The requirement to contain a half-cup of fruit and three-quarters cup of vegetables sounds better, although I wonder how I feel about paying kids – giving toys is a form of payment, after all – to eat their fruits and veggies. And certainly when my kids were four they would have been capable of grabbing the toy, eating the 50 percent fat items, then wailing about being forced to eat their fruits and vegies.

This is not a great step forward, but nevertheless it is a step in the right direction. I would’ve voted for it, given the option. I wonder why the Mayor says he’s vetoing it? Too tame, I hope.

(Photo Credit: Neato Coolville via Flickr)

Posted in Food Politics, Uncategorized

When it comes to school lunches, America is the third world

Brazil’s presidency appears likely to be headed for a runoff. But this NPR story has me wondering why a country that many Americans consider “third world” can do so much more in the world of school lunches than we can.

When I first heard that kids got rice and beans every day, I thought “That’s progress right there.” Because from a nutritional standpoint, rice and beans would be preferable to most U.S. school lunches, which are now being seriously discussed as contributors to obesity, or at the very least as a failure when it comes to countering it. Not surprisingly, when you look at them.

Yet according to the NPR piece, Brazil has mandated that 30 percent of the food for school lunches be purchased from local farmers, which has not only help stablize the farmers’ income but improve the kids’ diets. Now the rice and beans are augmented by fresh vegetables and local meat. Are you telling me we can’t manage to do this here? It’s a matter of politics and will.

Posted in Food Politics

Theo Hates, no, wait, Theo Loves Tofu

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By Sally Sampson  

Theo hates tofu.  

This shouldn’t surprise me, since Theo is nine. And like a lot of kids who didn’t grow up in Asian, vegan, vegetarian or hippy households, Theo, who is an otherwise adventurous, sophisticated eater, considers tofu a foreign, even a suspicious, food.  

Normally, I wouldn’t give this much thought. But that day, the “tofu problem” was a stumbling block, since I’d recruited Theo and eight other children to shoot the cooking sequences for issue two of ChopChop, a non-profit kids’ cooking magazine I’ve just launched with a few friends with the mission of encouraging nutritional literacy.  The shoot was well underway: my friend Sue’s house had been taken over by ChopChop staff, racks of colorful clothing, boxes of sneakers, piles of socks, crates and crates of tableware, cookware and props and shopping bags (recycled, of course) brimming with fresh ingredients. 

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Posted in Slow Food

Health vs. Profits in School Lunches

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An interesting story about a study that indicates that – somehow – obesity and the National School Lunch Program are linked. Do school lunches cause obesity? Or are obese kids more inclined to participate in the program? Good question, evidently.  

Another observation is that those in the School Breakfast Program tend less towards obesity, and at least one researcher feels that even a not especially nutritious breakfast may incline people towards healthier eating habits. The key here may be that lunch offers more “a la carte” options, meaning kids can buy more junk to “supplement” the Program’s offerings.  

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Posted in Food Politics

Senate Passes Child Nutrition Bill: Now What?

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by Jill Richardson

Last week, the Senate unanimously passed the Child Nutrition Reauthorization, a bill that would do just about everything to improve the school lunch program – except fund it. This is no small exception, considering that a tiny percentage of schools are currently able to follow the USDA’s nutrition regulations. How will they be able to comply with improved regulations with only six additional cents per lunch? And, although it passed in the Senate, the bill may still die on the House floor because some in Congress think even six cents is too much.

The school lunch debate has devolved entirely into a fight over the budget, and a rather disingenuous one at that. If members of Congress truly need to cut the budget somewhere in order to adequately fund healthy school lunches, they need not look further than the Pentagon. Representatives and Senators so love to fund weapons programs that provide jobs in their districts that they continue purchasing fighter jets even after the Pentagon begs them not to. (For example, the C-17, the F-35 engine, and the F-22.)

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Posted in Food Politics

Cooking with the Kids: Parents’ Night

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by Daniel Meyer 

(More of Daniel’s weekly adventures in cooking with kids. – mb) 

On Tuesday we cooked zucchini boats and strawberry shortcake for ourselves. On Wednesday we cooked zucchini boats and strawberry shortcake for our parents. On Thursday we cooked zucchini boats and strawberry shortcake for our benefactors. I fear that cooking class may have just had its soft opening. 

The repetition was a chance to practice our boat carving and biscuit making, and a welcome opportunity to explain to the kids that cooking is the delicate art of messing something up until it tastes good enough to eat for dinner – or, in this case, good enough to swallow in front of your mother.

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Posted in Behind The Scenes

Kids Radically Changing the Food System

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by Paula Crossfield 

On a recent Sunday afternoon in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, over a hundred people gathered at the 6000-square foot Eagle Street Rooftop Farm to talk about the farm’s newest addition: six laying hens.

The farmer, Annie Novak, put together a panel that included Bronx gardener Karen Washington, Owen Taylor from Just Food, and a thirteen year-old chicken enthusiast from Massachusetts named Orren Fox, who has twenty-seven hens and four ducks in Newburyport, 35 miles north of Boston. Last year, he started O’s Eggs, which sells eggs for $5 a dozen. Continue reading

Posted in Food Politics