Archive for the ‘Food Activism’ Category

Milk at lunch: a black or white issue?

It’s been quite a week in food health research, and it’s only Wednesday! In school lunch news, the New York Times reported that bans on soda in middle school have made virtually no difference in reducing sugary-drink consumption among those students during school hours.

“The study, which looked at thousands of public school students across 40 states, found that removing soda from cafeterias and school vending machines only prompted students to buy sports drinks, sweetened fruit drinks and other sugar-laden beverages instead. In states that banned only soda, students bought and consumed sugary drinks just as frequently at school as their peers in states where there were no bans at all.”

Then, I heard on CNN that a recent study finds fast food purchases increase as consumers rise from lower- to middle-income earners. This finding goes against the conventional wisdom that lower income consumers buy more fast food, contributing significantly to their higher rate of obesity.

“There is a correlation between obesity and lower income, but it cannot be solely attributed to restaurant choice,” Leigh said in a statement. “Fast-food dining is most popular among the middle class, who are less likely to be obese.”

And all of this news is happening during Jamie Oliver’s “Milk Week of Action” challenge, which sets its sights on pressuring schools to take flavored milk off the menu. In light of the news about school soda consumption, I’m wondering how effective this result would be among older children, but I’ve already seen its effectiveness among one sample group: my children.


Image courtesy of Food revolution


My 4 year old will not drink plain milk. As a baby, he couldn’t digest milk, and so we gave him rice milk until he was two years old. But the switch to milk after he outgrew his intolerance didn’t really “take” like I’d hoped. He gets most of calcium from other sources, but he will drink chocolate milk, which I dilute with skim. I generally feel that it’s better than no milk. However.

This week he started at a new preschool which lets kids buy lunch at the adjacent grade-school cafeteria. All last week he bought a school lunch, and at the end of the week he told me “They only let me buy white milk. And I drink it. And I like it a little bit!” So, for him the lack of choice in the milk department has turned his taste buds around.

The Food Revolution site has a number of ideas for influencing/reducing the milk options at the school your children attend. It can be as simple as writing a letter to the principal, or more involved community action. But only, of course, if you believe that your school should offer only pure milk. What do you think is the best method: milk by any means, or reducing the choice to the healthiest one?  Is it a battle worth fighting? Or, do you think kids will end up consuming the same amount of sugary milk even if it’s removed from elementary schools, the way they do in middle schools? Share your thoughts it he comments, below.


Blood & Chocolate

This is not a post on how to make a creepy chocolate bar gag gift for Halloween. It’s about how the fair trade movement can make you distrust the longest, most faithful and comforting boyfriend you’ve ever had: chocolate.

Did you know October is Fair Trade Month? Because I did not. I innocently thought I’d check into it and then…oh no, my eyes! I can’t now not know ¾ of the world’s cocoa is supplied by Ghana and the Ivory Coast, where child labor and even child slavery—through a trade with the child’s relative or kidnapping — is employed. These are not just teenagers doing this manual labor for little or no pay, but also children under 10 years of age. Food is Power has a detailed and substantiated article on this practice.

I read through quite a few blogs on the subject and grew more and more resigned to the fact that this practice is not something Jane Consumer can turn around, and also: Halloween is going to be a bummer. Am I going to prevent my kids from eating their chocolate in the interest of fare trade? Is there any chocolate I can buy for Halloween, guilt-free?  Every blog, it seemed, fell back on the same familiar saw: buy fair trade chocolate. Here are my issues with this tactic:

  1. You can buy bars at Whole Foods and other specialty stores, but if you want to buy small chocolates, you probably need to buy them online.
  2. Fair Trade chocolate is pricey. So, only those who can afford to buy it can eat chocolate without supporting child labor? Because NOT eating chocolate? Off the table.
  3.  I am skeptical that it tastes awesome.

I wanted to write a post about it, but I didn’t feel like I could offer up any ideas that I can really get behind. To my great relief, Forbes published an article this week that asks, “Is Your Candy the Product of Child Labor?”  E.D. Cain, bless his heart, voiced some of my own concerns and followed up with ideas for old-fashioned citizen action: pester the companies.

The answer to this from many quarters has been fair trade – but is fair trade a viable solution? I suspect not. If prices for fair trade goods are higher than prices for non-fair trade goods, all this will do is lead consumers with more purchasing power to buy the fair trade goods while most consumers stick to cheaper brands

If consumers can’t exactly vote with their feet, and free trade itself is a net good for the developing world, than what can we do about things like slave labor in Africa being used to provide cocoa to candy manufacturers in the Western world? Consumers can and should pressure corporations to adopt more ethical business practices and labor standards. Activists and journalists can write about injustices across the developing world.

Here are links to the contact pages for the top chocolate producers in the U.S.—Mars, Hershey, Ghirardelli, Nestle,  Kraft Foods and the Curtiss Candy Company  if you want to encourage them to support fair trade chocolate. Meanwhile, I’ll think about switching my secret chocolate drawer contents to fair trade chocolates. But only if it tastes awesome. I’ll do a taste test and report back.

Do you have a fair trade chocolate you can recommend to me? What other steps can I take to support/encourage fair trade practices in chocolate manufacturing?

First Annual Food Day on October 24

Food seems to be on everyone’s mind these days in ways it wasn’t before. The spread of childhood obesity, type 2 diabetes and malnutrition in the U.S. has caught the attention of the press, the White House and the entertainment industry. The support for sustainable, affordable and healthy foods is one of the few progressively political movements that has, literally, grass roots. As homeowners or even renters, we can plant a garden or participate in a community garden. As parents, we have the opportunity to educate our children about healthy, sustainable foods. As school volunteers, we have the opportunity to educate all of our neighborhood children. As member of networks, we can spread the word to our friends. But, there has not been one single day dedicated to pushing for healthy, affordable food produced in a sustainable, humane way. Until now.

The nonprofit watchdog group Center for Science in the Public Interest is sponsoring the first annual Food Day on October 24.

Anyone can participate, in any manner of ways. You can host a potluck with sustainable foods as the required ingredients. Volunteer to speak at your child’s school about the relationship between diet and learning. Take your kids to the garden and talk about where food comes from, and how processed foods and whole foods differ. Sponsor your child’s preschool class for a field trip to a farmer’s market or whole foods, or a working farm. Contact your representative to let them know that supporting healthy, sustainable and affordable foods is important to you (you can take this step on the home page of

I bet you have are other, more creative ideas for honoring this day. Tell us about them in the comments section.

If it’s Yellow, then it’s Jello. If it’s Blue, it Could be Stew

It is only because I subscribe to Motherlode that I learned this is National School Lunch Week. And I’m thankful I read the blog, as it’s a great catalyst for my first post about food in the community. I bought a school lunch pretty much every day of elementary school, until I was old enough and motivated enough to make my own lunch. The youngest of three kids, I was informed by my mother that she was just “done” making lunches when I hit first grade. Here’s a $20, hon, that’ll last you the month.

When my Spitfire went to Kindergarten, I was already aware of the movement to improve school lunches and concerned about food safety at schools from exposure to books and films on the subject. I feel that change begins in your own home, and if I want school lunches to improve, then I need to make sure my kids are eating them and I am paying into the system. At the start of each month the Spitfire and I sit down with the lunch menu and highlight the meals she likes and I find acceptable. Today was one such meal.

And because I didn’t have a lunch meeting, I decided to join her today. One way you can start to make a difference in your kids lunch offerings is simply showing up. This can mean contributing to the system by purchasing school lunches and thereby growing the funds schools have to buy better produce, and it can also mean literally showing up for lunchtime and seeing what your kid eats. Today, mine ate a cheeseburger with lots of ketchup, honeydew and chocolate milk. She had tater tots on her plate but she doesn’t prefer them and had also dropped a few on the way to the table. I must confess that my upbringing of daily school lunches means that I do prefer them, so I ate a few of hers.

Today's school lunch

Usually, there is a vegetable–salad, carrots, green beans or the like. But today there were only lettuce, sliced tomatoes and pickles for the burger. The Spitfire eats hers plain. Ketchup was today’s vegetable of choice. I didn’t see any of her friends put them on their burgers, either. Now, the kids can opt for a veggie burger, and my kids do eat them, but they don’t know they eat them and would not ask for one. They think a Boca Burger is the same as any other burger and I’m not sure when the time is right to reveal my deceit.

Anyway, this trip to the cafeteria has me thinking about cheeseburger day. If she’s going to eat from the cafeteria on a day with no true vegetable, I’m going to have to supplement her day. That might mean sending Veggie Booty as her snack, or giving her carrots to take to the cafeteria.

When the official school lunch week is over you can still show up and make an impact any week of the school year. And, there are other ways to be active in your community’s efforts towards healthier school lunches. has a brief and informative slide show on this very topic, with several ideas on how to get involved in improving the offerings in your school cafeteria.

As for me, my next step may be a note to the principal, asking how I can offer input into the school lunch program. I don’t usually attend our PTA meetings, but I could start doing so, with an eye towards getting the menu on the agenda sometime this year.  

What are your ideas for improving school lunches?