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Eat-in for school food, community, and art

It seems that each week brings a new bit of evidence or an old-but-new-to-me essay inspiring me to work even harder to ply my children with nutritious, slow, fresh, whole, inconvenient foods. This summer, I've been making progress, involving the kids in the magic of the garden and cooking foods they (supposedly) love in the slow, slow way. A few weeks ago, Everett harvested two pumpkins and brought them inside to me to make his favorite food: pumpkin pie. I did so, in a crust made of whole wheat flour and lard I rendered myself (I believe in high quality animal fats, but that's for another time), using that pumpkin from our front yard garden, eggs from our backyard chickens, and honey from the People's Co-op farmer's market. I worried that it wasn't sweet enough. Was too lumpy. Wouldn't be like that pie at the annual Thanksgiving feast at his school.

He loved it, and offered a piece to a friend who came to visit, saying, "my mom made this, and it's really good!" There were tears, fat and heavy, in my eyes. I'd just finished reading this article about how a young man's diet is the best -- by far, far better than socio-economic class or community or parenting situation or playing violent video games or anything -- the best predictor of criminal behavior. Eat mostly junk food, you're more likely to go to jail. Period.

And yet, here we are, about to head back to school, where the lunchtime fare at most public schools is decidedly junk food. At Everett's school, it's particularly bad, and the teachers there will back me up. The vegetables that are available are so burned by refrigerants, or spoiled, they're inedible. The rare fruits and veggies that survive the weeks (or longer?) from harvest to lunch tray are doused in chemical preservatives and, often, sugar. The meat is from the lowest possible quality sources; the baked goods are thoroughly packed with processed ingredients. Whole foods are cut up and wrapped in plastic. The best thing there is yogurt, and that's full of sugar. Each meal surely exceeds the new recommendation from the American Heart Association that we severely limit our daily added sugar intake. The real food at Everett's school is rare (and he insists on eating school lunches; he's struggling mightily with other kids making fun of him, so I don't dare put my foot down).

It could be better. Slow Food USA is working to to advocate for this. Today, right now (I should have written this earlier!) in conjunction with the awesome Time Based Art festival, is a Slow Food Eat-In picnic as part of the National Day of Action to get real food in schools. I am going. I am bringing a salad I made of green beans (cut in half crosswise and cooked about six minutes in boiling water) sauteed with cherry tomatoes (cut in half) and crushed garlic -- all from my garden -- in a little bacon fat, and tossed with salt and feta cheese. It's real food and I harvested it today. I know this can't be the lunch at Everett's school tomorrow. But it should be, some day.

And I'd love to share some with you if you can make it to this event. There's one in NE Portland, tonight, too. Or tell your real-food-in-schools story, here.


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I think you should dare to put your foot down.

Amazing ... is it the "in" thing now to eat the school lunch? It used to be the opposite, when I was a kid. School lunches were for the "poor" and "weird" kids. So I brought my own -- and even then, I was teased mercilessly for being something called "vegetarian." I had lunch meat thrown at me, and was tormented for eating a "weird donut" -- a bagel. There I sat, with my brown bread and apple, while the other kids ate mini-bags of Fritos and stacks of Oreo cookies. So, yeah. You can't win.

All of this to say, lunchtime is terribly filled with social pressure. I really feel for Everett -- and you!

I'm glad there's some activism brewing on this front. A local market should sponsor a fresh veggies initiative!

I can appreciate the sentiment, zinemama. I have to give Sarah kudos though for picking her battles. I really believe kids need to be able to be in charge of their own food choices at some point. I think there's a balance between showing him a preferred way, and making sure the bulk of his food is consistent with that, and allowing him room to experience other choices. Kids have enough opportunity to be singled out and different over things they cannot control that I have to believe letting him have some sense of fitting in when they're too young to understand why they don't is important. If it takes chocolate milk to do it, then I'm willing to let go of that one myself as well. Doesn't mean I won't still try to make the chocolate milk (or whatever else they're serving) get better, but as long as it's still there I can handle it knowing he still eats the bulk of his meals from my kitchen.

The school lunch issue is something I'm struggling mightily with as my partner and I seek a daycare/preschool for our daughter. We're strongly considering Peninsula Children's Center since it's meeting many of our desires (affordability and diversity being top needs), but I'm really conflicted because of the food that's offered. We try hard to eat a mostly whole foods, low sugar and junk sort of diet, and I'm really concerned about what looks like a PPS menu. Maybe if we enroll, we can work to change the menus by seeking partnerships and donations? Maybe we can send food from home? Food is so important...

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