Diana Starr: Parent Volunteer And Plain Milk AdvocateWed 01 Jun 2011
Story by Diana Starr
I’ve been asked to tell about my fight in the Food Revolution. I’m not sure I can really call myself a “hero” but I certainly can tell you that I’m a soldier.
My son started Kindergarten at a local LAUSD school in Fall ‘09. I filled out the mandated paperwork and sent $20 in to the cafeteria for the next few weeks’ lunches. The Café LA materials looked fantastic! Their motto is “Healthy food, healthy bodies, healthy brain.” I’ve been working hard to feed my family healthfully and when I saw that I was satisfied they would take great care of my child. I didn’t give it another thought.
Several months later, I began to volunteer in my son’s class. I followed the kids out to the cafeteria, walked them through the line and sat down as they tucked into their plastic bags of food. That day’s meal was whole-grain breaded chicken sandwich with potato wedges and chocolate milk. Everything was brown and the milk was in these plastic bags that the kids were puncturing with a straw. Not a “Capri Sun” type bag, but something I later found out is referred to as a “bladder.” The poor little Kinders were puncturing the bag and their milk spilled all over their meal and they had to eat that hideous combination or else go hungry. My little guy would not be buying lunch anymore.
A few months later, my husband and I happened across this show Jamie Oliver was doing - a reality TV show about school lunches. I sat there in awe as first graders, kids just 6 months older than my own, were unable to identify a tomato. I went right to the website and signed the online petition & received an email asking if I want to participate in the LA Food Revolution. Heck yes! I started a Facebook group to gain a local following and began talking to all my friends about the potential of this grassroots movement. I met up with an incredible group of FR supporters and attended a rally at LAUSD headquarters, where we found ourselves locked out of their Cafeteria Improvement Committee.
The next step was to get the parents at school involved and so we formed a nutrition committee. We met with the Cafeteria Manager and learned that we are what LAUSD calls a “satellite” kitchen purely because we do not have the money for a staff to cook. We used to have fresh meals cooked daily just two years ago. We talked about how we would like to see fresh fruits and vegetables on the kid’s trays, every day. We explained how the added sugar in the milk is dangerous for our children, especially if it’s combined with Frosted Flakes and Coffee Cake, our famous LAUSD breakfast. The CM’s eyes bulged when I said it topped 51 grams of sugar – more than a can of Coke – and the Café LA website didn’t show sugar content! We relayed the statistics that one-half of our Latino children WILL get diabetes in their lifetime and one-third of the rest.
The Cafeteria Manager said that they must stick by the menu to be in compliance - and their menu said it has to offer a “choice of milk.” Our little group stuck to our guns and asked for this one small change: to remove the chocolate milk. We got a one-month trial along with a brief presentation to the children to educate them on the how and why.
Unfortunately, there is a sad turn to this story. Due to scheduling issues, we weren’t ever able to teach the kids about why we took their chocolate milk away and then we lost our supportive principal to a medical leave of absence. The kids chose strawberry milk over then plain and some even brought chocolate mix to school! The new interim principal decided to give them their chocolate milk back, regardless of what the nutrition committee wanted. The chocolate milk has less sugar than the strawberry and she was not interested in educating the kids on making good choices.
Our hands are tied – until the next school year.
About the author: Diana Starr is a parent volunteer and plain milk advocate for Lomita Magnet School, Los Angeles
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