Thursday, September 17, 2009

Real Food in Schools: Labor Day in Sonoma

On Labor Day I joined about two dozen people (and one perfectly adorable baby) at the Sonoma Community Garden for National Day of Action to get Real Food in Schools. Sponsored by Slow Food USA, more than 300 of these gatherings were held across the country to show support for bringing healthy food to the school-age population.

The gathering in Sonoma began with a delicious potluck lunch followed by a conversation, led by Gary and John, the co-conveners of Slow Food Sonoma Valley. Lauren spoke about trying to get the school system’s Snack Committee to include healthy food. Two young women, interns at the Garden, gave us a reality check when they described the high school’s menu for breakfast and lunch and how they choose to bring their own. Many others joined in to make the conversation both lively and far-reaching.

It was a good start. Even though many of us no longer have kids in the school system and are not regularly checking school lunch menus, we showed up to support a better school lunch policy. Good for all of us.

But I am left with questions that move beyond the schoolyard. While it is important to focus on institutions, like schools, which are subject to regulation and hence can be changed by creating a new set of guidelines, it is, to my mind, equally important to think about the larger cultural issues that affect us all, including what to eat for breakfast and dinner. Most of these issues can’t be legislated or regulated and most can only be solved in our communities.

How can we learn how to prepare good food? My Home Ec classes in 7th and 8th grades were not the answer. I couldn’t find a grandmother for advice and encouragement. I did find some really good cookbooks. Is the Food Channel really teaching?

How can we make cooking dinner a priority, see it time well spent? I used (and still use) cooking as a form of meditation. But you could equally consider it a happy hour (with a glass of wine), a quiet time to separate from work, or a time to cook while helping with homework in the kitchen.

How can we educate and encourage everyone to eat more wisely? The USDA food pyramid doesn’t do it for me. My friends help. Conversations help.

How can we make cooking and eating together fun and enjoyable for everyone? I love having friends over for supper. I think it would be fun to close off the street for neighborhood potlucks or have cooking parties. But I run into the time issue.

How can we make it easier for working moms and dads, our friends and neighbors, to cook fresh food for themselves and their kids? We might cook for them—to give them a break. But what about friends or neighbors cooking for each other on a regular basis or developing and sharing really easy one-dish recipes that everyone loves. What about dropping off a casserole and a salad one night.

How can we make nourishing food available and affordable to everyone? This is a big one and I don’t know the answer, but it is so important.

How can we model good cooking and eating habits to pass along to our kids or grandkids? I seem to have passed along my passion for cooking good food and gathering around the dinner table to eat it, sharing meals with friends, having riveting (!) conversations, and creating family traditions.

I’m trying to wrap my arms around these bigger issues. I don’t have all the answers by any means. In fact I don’t even have all the questions. I could even be totally off base. And none of us has a lot of time to devote to the questions, answers or the doing. But as with our Labor Day discussion, it’s a start. What do you think? What can we do?

1 comment:

Holly said...

As I've grown older, I've begun to learn about and question the whole meat industry issue. I question what the meat we eat contains (hormones, antibiotics, etc), which has become "necessary" mainly because the animals are grown -- we can no longer say "raised", in such inhumane, filthy and over-crowded conditions, that the drugs are needed to keep them from getting sick, and us from getting sick from their meat.
It's a dilemma for me now, and it's hard for me to buy meat unless I know it is free of the drugs, and came from animals raised and slaughtered humanely.

It would be so great if the meat in our schools came from healthy animals, or better yet, if there was less meat in all of our diets. And the planet would be in better shape too... the meat industry creates more green-house gases than all of the cars, planes, ships, trains (all forms of transportation) put together each year. I struggle with this, and yet I still seem to need to eat a little meat each week, maybe once or twice. It would be so nice if we still had small farms instead of the factory farms we have now. Then perhaps, I'd feel a little better.