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What are we feeding our children?

Kevin Hall, the Tucson Food Dude, has the ugly truth

 I’m not really much of a TV guy.  I don’t have cable, my television has tubes, and I don’t know the difference between LCD and plasma (there is a difference, right?).

That said, I just spent the last two hours watching Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution on ABC.  The premise of the show, in a nutshell, is that kids in this country eat a whole lot of unhealthy processed food.  They eat it at home and they eat it in school.  "Food Revolution" is about getting families, and especially kids, eating healthier meals, and getting schools serving fresh, more nutritious and less processed food.

This idea really isn’t too new for Mr. Oliver; he ran a similar program in his native Britain beginning in 2002.  In the School Dinners campaign, the celebrity chef took over a school, and then a school district, in Greenwich.  This resulted in a massive petition being delivered to the Prime Minister, and millions of additional pounds being put into improving those meals and training the school culinary workers.

The main difference in the US version is the amazing amount of resistance he’s facing from the very people he’s trying to help.  At best, the people he’s dealing with are skeptics – at worst, they’re excited to see him fail.  Granted, this is television and conflict is soooo much more interesting than a campfire and "Kumbayah," but his track record would seem to indicate that he’s really trying to do something good.

Chef Oliver probably could have started in Portland, or Berkeley, or somewhere that might be receptive to the notion of eating freshly-prepared food, but he chose to kick things off in Huntington, WV.  Huntington has the distinction of being the unhealthiest city in the entire country, according to this 2008 US Centers for Disease Control Study.  Looking at the golden brown color of much of the food, seeing pizza being served to elementary school children for breakfast, and watching children not able to identify a single fresh vegetable, I can see why.

Before casting any stones, though, I wanted to see what Tucson schoolchildren are getting to eat.  I checked out the current TUSD elementary menu, Amphitheater School District menu, and the January menu (most current) for the Sunnyside School District.  Both Vail and Catalina Foothills school districts contract their meals with Sodexo Dining Services, and their menu information was unavailable online.  I requested them, though, and will update when/if I get them.

While I’m happy to report that there was no pizza for breakfast, and things looked better overall than what was on the show, there’s still room for improvement.  TUSD elementary students who ate both breakfast and lunch at school this past week consumed an average of 1211 calories and 31.76g fat daily.  The Mayo Clinic’s nutritional guidelines for girls 4-8 is 1200-1800 calories and 33-47 g fat per day (based on 1200 calories), so TUSD students are almost there in just those two meals.  Sunnyside’s most recent nutritional information (Dec 7-11, 2009) showed slightly higher totals, with a daily average of 1283 calories and 36.4 g fat.

I couldn’t find nutritional information for Amphi, but last week’s lunch entrees were (M-F): corn dog & tater bucks (what’s a tater buck?), nachos grandes, chicken rings with mashed potato & gravy, pizza, and grilled cheese with oven fries.  That’s a whole lot of processed, preservative-laden stuff.  And after seeing how Jamie Oliver made chicken nuggets, I don’t even want to think about those rings…

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Looking at the nutritional guidelines, we could be doing worse, but I think we could be doing a lot better that we are.  These are our kids, and they deserve fresh and healthy food.  They deserve the nutrients to grow their bodies and brains properly.  They deserve a solid nutritional foundation so that they don’t develop major health issues prematurely.

How do we get there?  As individual families we can cook more, and cook together.  We can make healthy and nutritious breakfasts and lunches for our kids.  But I want to think about what we can do as a community to raise our awareness and raise our standards.  Is this the best political or economic climate for thinking about these kinds of changes?  Probably not, but waiting doesn’t get us anywhere.

I ask you: is this an issue that concerns you?  If not, why not?  If yes, where do we go from here?  I look forward to seeing your ideas, and who knows, maybe we’ll start a little revolution of our own right here in Tucson…

Kevin Hall’s blog can be found at TucsonFoodDude.com.


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