Often when we think of huge “omnibus” government legislations like the Transportation Bill, the Energy Bill, or the Farm Bill—huge public spending programs with real life consequences—they seem so complex and tedious it is hard to understand how they affect us personally. It’s easy to get lost in the billions and trillions, in the alphabet soup and acronyms, in highway projects and corn monocultures in the Midwest. One of the beauties of the National School Lunch Program is that we can see the impacts on a personal level. We can look around in our communities and see our kids who depend on these programs. The Child Nutrition Act touches home in every community around the country.
This year the US arm of the international movement known as Slow Food is circulating a petition asking for some very reasonable changes to the Child Nutrition Act:
• $1 increase in the reimbursement per meal;
• grants for Farm-to-School and school garden projects to educate every single child in the country on where food comes from, and get the culture back in agriculture;
• financial incentives for schools to purchase as many fruits and vegetables as possible from local farmers to keep that money in the community, and to shorten the distance our food has to travel before it reaches our children’s cafeteria tables.
All this makes sense and deserves our support if only for one single reason. Children need proper nutrition to be good students. They can’t make it through an afternoon of focused attention without healthy food. This is actually a national security concern. We can’t afford to be a nation of under-achievers, at least not if we can help it.
Fortunately, there is a great shift in consciousness occurring around food and public health right now. Locally grown healthy food is being seen as a catalyst and dynamic organizing principle to revitalize local economies, to compensate for a future with less oil, to deal with a planet that is heating up, to address an obesity crisis that is verging on disaster.
The concept of feeding all of our children well, of teaching them about the beauty and complexity of food production through school gardens and local Farm-to-School programs which actually feed them, should be a community as well as a national priority. But in order for these things to happen, Congress needs to authorize more funding for the program. We should see this long overdue increase to the Child Nutrition Act as a down payment on a new generation that will have a lifetime of good eating habits engrained in them. The idea of healthy foods as preventive health care—perhaps even as medicine—is a concept that can and should change the world.
Find Slow Food’s petition here.
Find info on HR 1324, a bill introduced by Lynn Woolsey relating to Child Nutrition Act.