Earlier this month I attended a talk on food awareness by Chantal Valentine, a Whitman College graduate who authored "The Baby Cuisine Cookbook" and has launched a "preschool food revolution" in the San Francisco Bay Area in response to the food served in her child's school.
Seeing a need for a healthy change in their community, she and husband Shane, were speaking at Whitman to share their knowledge and bring about awareness and change to the processed food trend aimed at children. With the extreme rise of obesity and Type-2 diabetes, and the realization that our poor food habits are the cause, people in increasing numbers in the United States are starting to take action. The Valentines are among those on the frontline of a growing movement.
For the first time in history, children born in the year 2000 and after are forecast to have a shorter life span then their parents. These kids have a 1-in-3 chance of contracting Type-2 diabetes, something that is avoidable with healthy food choices.
In Berkeley, Calif., chef Alice Waters started an "Edible Schoolyard" to teach kids about growing, harvesting, and preparing nutritious, seasonal produce. For over 16 years, the project has inspired students to try new foods, exposed them to a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, and giving them life skills, including the ability to make healthy food choices and work cooperatively.
Michelle Obama joined the movement by planting an organic garden at he White House and starting the "Let's Move!" campaign to combat childhood obesity. Believing manufacturers should be held accountable for the food they produce, she was quoted as telling the Grocery Manufacturers Association, "We need you to entirely rethink the products you're offering, the information you provide about these products, and how you market those products to our children."
Jamie Oliver overhauled the school lunch system in his native England and brought his passion to America to try to do the same with our nation's school lunch program. Finding it a little more complicated that he first imagined, he is still making strides, bringing attention to the problems of processed junk foods, organizing a ban on sugar-filled flavored milk and a starting a mobile teaching kitchen for students across the Los Angeles School District. He encourages families to prepare and eat more meals at home together, starting with just once more a week.
In the Seattle-area, Cynthia Lair has begun training school cooks on ways to incorporate more fresh vegetables and whole grains in their meal plans with a program called "Discover. Cook. Nourish." As a first step, it attempts to affect the beliefs of the individual school food service worker. With topics such as whole grain cookery, how to balance meals, how to shop for best quality and hands-on cooking lessons, the program works to get these cooks excited about better health through good food. Developing a passion for feeding themselves and their families better, they will in turn make healthy choices for their schools when given the opportunity.
Why use grant money to change a school cook's family dinner plate?
"Starting with the individual is exactly where change begins," Lair responded in a media report when asked that question. "Each parent, each child, each school food service worker has to desire similar changes if school lunch food is going to improve. If we don't shift the consciousness of the school food service worker, then who would you start with?"
"Two Angry Moms" is a movie filmmaker Amy Kalafa and Susan Rubin made after experiencing the poor state of school lunches in their children's schools. Kalafa has also written "Lunch Wars," a book to arm readers with tools to help bring change within their own school systems.
Today the average American spends about 27 minutes a day on food preparation and another four minutes cleaning up. That's less than half the time spent 30 years ago - and less than half the time it takes to watch a single episode of "Top Chef." This indicates that many Americans are spending considerably more time watching cooking on television than they are actually cooking themselves.
The food revolution can start with each and every one of us.
Shane Valentine suggests starting with the "non-negotiables," the food rules you set up in your home -such as no soda or high-fructose corn syrup, and sitting down for a family meal at least once a week.
Start where you are and build slowly. Pack a lunch one more day each week. Start a garden or cooking class. Eat lunch with your child at school and encourage other children to take a serving of fruit and vegetables from the salad bar. Share a meal with a friend or co-worker. Involve others, model healthy eating habits, and have fun!
As food issues author Michael Pollan writes: "Food is invisible no longer and, in light of the mounting costs we've incurred by ignoring it, it is likely to demand much more of our attention in the future, as eaters, parents, and citizens."
Melissa Davis, a local chef with a bachelor's degree in nutrition. She can be reached at email@example.com. More of her writing is at www.melissadavisfood.wordpress.com.