Eating the Alphabet

This morning I read the following from Path to Freedom, an excerpt from a presentation by Jules Dervaes and his family.
Swamped with more and more choices (shoes, fonts) but check out the contrast when it comes to seeds it is just the opposite.

Since the origin of agriculture around 10,000 plant species have been used for human food. Today about 150 species make up the diet of most of the world population. Just 12 provide over 80% of our food and 60% of what we eat comes from only 4 crops - rice, wheat, corn and potatoes.

(Showing a power point slide) Back in the 1900 a dollar represented what our grandparents ate in terms of varieties. Today after 100 years of progress what remains of their diet is a lousy 3 cents. That’s a 97% loss. If a corporation lost that in stock value it would be the end of its existence.
Share with you some solutions today.

In fact I did spend my weekend pondering this very issue related to the little elementary school across the street from me. First, I just found out that a grant proposal I wrote with the school's green committee was approved for a small proportion of what we proposed in our School as a Garden plan. The family foundation is granting the school $30,000, with $10,000 each year for three years being the timetable. The elementary school is on fall break so I know nothing more.

Even before I got this news I heard from a parent about a Love Your Vegetables grant parents had attempted last year with no luck. I responded that I was interested, so he sent me what we had. I couldn't get the Eat the Alphabet idea out of my head, so I spent the weekend filling this out a bit. Without going into the original School as a Garden proposal here right now (possibly later) I was wanting to capitalize on the weekly Farmers' Market that takes place each Sunday on the school grounds. We have the perfect opportunity for class projects, lunchroom menus that rally round the concept of Know Your Farmer. We have the perfect setup for this. The sample menu beginnings are shown here (click on these for larger versions) and I am trying to incorporate what the parents used last year as a starting point. I got many of the images and ideas from my own 2008 make-a-(green)plan food posts, which were organized by my year long alphabet format.

On Monday or Tuesday I lost my momentum. Nobody responded to my emails or ideas and the deadline is in 2 weeks. *sigh* I also looked up this month's menu for the school's lunches. Oh woe, where oh where did I think I could start with finding acceptance for the menu items I was suggesting (for the raw, fresh salad bar and for hot dishes made with more diversity)? These kids are offered pizza, chicken nuggets and canned peas every single day. Oh yes, on Tuesdays and Thursdays they have iceberg lettuce and some hot house GM tomatoes and the like - but nothing remotely like what qualifies as excellence. There is a lot of talk on the school website (and all over the internet, USDA sites, education and state children's health etc.) about nutrition. I am more in agreement with my favorite food blogger, Jill Richardson, when she says:
[...]When it comes to school lunch nutritional standards there are two categories of food to discuss: the federally-reimbursable school lunch, and everything else. (The name for "everything else" is "competitive foods" because those foods compete for children's money and appetites with the school lunch.)  [...]
The Institute of Medicine recommendations focus on the actual school lunch, not the competitive foods. The nutrition of the school lunch IS regulated by the USDA... only the standards haven't been updated since 1995 and, as IOM points out, they kinda suck. The recommendations, on the other hand, are AWESOME. My biggest fear is that any changes to school food policy will be based on what Michael Pollan calls "nutritionism:" i.e. regulations calling for lunches to contain specific nutrients instead of specific foods. And, as the people who market Rice Krispies understand, you can take a relatively junky food and fortify it until it appears very healthy (the back of the Rice Krispies box touts all of the nutrients in the cereal, even though it's basically nothing more than fortified refined grains and sugar.) The IOM is totally on the same page as me:

First, the committee recommended a food-based menu planning system that includes limits on calories, fat, saturated fat and sodium. Currently, schools have the option of using a nutrient-based system, which makes it easy to serve heavily processed, fortified food. They can meet requirements for vitamin C, for example, by serving fortified fruit snacks. Under a food-based system, nutrient targets are used in developing the standards for school meals, but they are not used in the actual menu planning. Instead, schools must simply serve items from a number of different food groups, including dark green and orange vegetables and legumes.

I talked about this disillusionment while walking on Wednesday with my kid. It isn't a new state, where I find myself now. I have deliberately stepped away from the most pervasive cultural norms of consumerism, junk food, television, magazines and other sources of the corporate drumbeat, propagandist wall of sound. And I am able to do this with ease because of my age and place. If I were a parent of young children I'd be hardwired to this destructive noise machine that never sleeps. All day every day - yes, in the schools, what passes for news and on the streets. (I just found out that one can get a car free or very cheap if one agrees to have it covered in advertising.)

My heart breaks for parents trying to teach their children anything counter to the big corporate dictates. Yet, my resolution is to keep my own center and focus. I refuse to snuff out my own passion and spirit and will continue to write and dream. I just have to back away from the school somewhat when it comes to investing too much of myself. I want to do the composting and be a garden regular and contribute what I can. I just can hand my heart away. I must always remind myself that many, many of the people all around me go through the motions without a lot of thought or awareness. It is how people try to cope and it is what's encouraged - a distracted race rather than living. These are my observations anyway. So, I share with my virtual community and keep looking for more and more real live indications of change.


Beany said...

First, congratulations!

Second, I LOVE the calendar! I adore it.

Third...I suddenly have been feeling very out of it and a bit lost. I'm realizing in a very real way how little I know, how little change is possible, how helpless I am and how young I and therefore how much longer I have to live. I try to maintain focused on my own life without annoying others about my choices (hoping that maybe it inspires people).

I wish things were different. And I wish I didn't wish that.

Rosa said...

Oh, that's exciting, I hope people start getting back to you.

Do you have an idea what they spend on meals, and if they have a kitchen? I heard in our school board meetings last year that the national average is something like 30 cents per kid per meal, and lots of our local elementary schools don't have actual kitchens, just reheating centers, and not enough staff for real cooking. And of course the high schools are colonized by chain restaurants, mcdonalds and pizza hut and taco bell. The school district has been looking at reform (they replaced soda machines with milk & water machines) but it needs rebuilding from the bottom up - and first they have to stanch a $7 million buget hole this year.

We eat quite a bit of "junk" food, I think, but also a lot of whole foods, seasonal vegetables and local, grass-fed meat & dairy.

The daycare my son goes to serves the least healthy breakfast I can imagine - sugar cereal and "breakfast bars" - in fact, he loves the sugar cereal so much, Mica eats a whole breakfast here (eggs, tamales, oatmeal) and then still always polishes off a bowl of froot loops there. For lunch they have what I think of as "school food" - things with gravy, and only three vegetables (peas, carrots & corn).

And then in 15 minute weekly segments they are teaching a "healthy food" curriculum that includes gems like "it's healthier to eat your vegetables plain, without butter" and "candy is a sometimes treat" and "don't drink too much juice or soda!"

I just don't even know how to begin to address it, except by ignoring it.

Anonymous said...

congratulations on the grant!

this is a fantastic project which offers so many exciting possibilities. any fresh, real food which can be incorporated in daily school menu offerings would be a huge and positive start. it's absolutely sinful what is currently offered to america's children in school cafeterias across our country.

love the alphabet idea. such potential with the farmer's market right there on school property. also, the timing seems incredibly fertile.