Healthy School Food Advocates Join LA Campaign

Healthy School Food Advocates Join LA Campaign

Wed 27 Apr 2011

Story by Jessica Tully
 

Los Angeles unified parents & students welcome new Superintendent, Dr. Deasy, with school food letter campaign requesting immediate improvements to school food.

Two weeks ago, Los Angeles parents and students joined together in a broad coalition of healthy school food advocates to call on the new Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) Superintendent, Dr. John Deasy, and the Board of Education to commit to improvements in the district’s school breakfast and lunch programs. The coalition launched a letter writing campaign to Dr Deasy asking him to take concrete steps during his first 100 days in office, in time for the new school year in September. Letters have been flowing at a rate of 200 per day to Dr Deasy’s inbox since the campaign began and the campaign has already garnered over 1,800 supporters.

Each letter contains a personal appeal to Dr Deasy, stating the belief that Dr Deasy “shares the desire of thousands of parents across the school district to create a better health future for our children – children in your daily care. I urge you to use your leadership position to make fundamental changes that will leave a legacy of improved food habits for the next generation of Angelenos.”

A delegation of students and parents has requested a meeting with the Superintendent to make a formal delivery of the electronic and handwritten letters. Their goal is to enlist his help in the struggle for better school food in LA. Their requests include:

• Raise nutrition standards for school meals.
• Improve the cafeteria environment, including adequate time to eat.
• Provide breakfast for all students, cut the sugar.
• Prioritize from-scratch cooking with whole, fresh ingredients.
• Enable school gardens as an education tool.
• Support food education as a critical part of the curriculum.
• Meaningful parent involvement and accountability.

Just last evening, Jamie and Dr. Deasy announced on Jimmy Kimmel Live that LAUSD would move to eliminate sugary flavored milk by the beginning of school next fall (see video links at the bottom). This is a great win for the parent and student voices that echo through these letters.

One of the more than 400 student letter writers, 10-year-old Kali Hawkins, said:

“The times that I have to eat the school lunch I feel like I'm eating something my mom would call "junk food." I love my school but I will be the first to say that I prefer not to eat their food.--No offense!”

In Los Angeles County, obesity rates have risen more than 20% in the last decade. The student population of the LAUSD is nearly 80% Latino, and students in lower income neighborhoods and minority children are at the greatest risk of type 2 diabetes. Over half of LAUSD children are eligible for free school meals and rely on the meal tray for more than half their daily food.

The District has taken some steps to strengthen students’ nutritional environment, but parents, kids and advocates still believe there is an urgent need for further improvements. The current district lunch menus contain a high proportion of processed, pre-cooked and re-heated foods. There is limited classroom education about healthy eating, with few connections to cafeterias or gardens or culinary education.

Despite leading the nation in eliminating sugary soda sales in 2002, a current LAUSD breakfast menu of Frosted Flakes, coffee cake, chocolate milk and orange juice contains 51 grams of added sugar, nearly 13 teaspoons.

The campaign has brought together a coalition of different local organizations and parent advocates. Collaborators include:

California Food Policy Advocates
Childhood Obesity Research Center (USC CORC)
Food for Lunch
Garden School Foundation
Kidding Around the Kitchen
Root Down LA
Slow Food Los Angeles

Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution team in Los Angeles have been working to support the endeavor. Local web development agency Exaltation of Larks created the online tools. If you would like to support the campaign by sending a letter, go to www.schoolfoodletter.com.

About the author: Jessica Tully is an organizer and artist residing in Oakland, CA.

Photo Credit: Carmen Joseph

Jamie Oliver and Dr Deasy Video links:

Jamie Oliver on Jimmy Kimmel Live PART 1
Jamie Oliver on Jimmy Kimmel Live PART 2

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