Christian Long

Ann Cooper: School Lunches

In TED Talks on April 11, 2010 at 11:37 pm

Reflection by DEVON H.

Original TED page w/ speaker bio, links, comments, etc:

Ann Cooper: School Lunches

What did your children have for lunch yesterday?

Pizza? Chicken nuggets? A burger? or was it a salad?

Do you know the nutritional value of that meal? Probably not right? How many times do you actually read the nutrition label on something to figure out the actual serving size?

“School Lunches” is a talk by Ann Cooper where she is trying to raise awareness about the lack of nutrition in school lunches. Ann Cooper is the Director of Nutrition Services for the Berkeley Unified School District. She has 90 employees and 17 locations that feed 9,600 kids. She makes 7,100 meals a day and has been for two years. Her main goal is to change what we feed kids these days in their schools. When she came to all of her schools, the first thing she did was put in a salad bar in every single one of them. She was told this couldn’t be done because “the little kids wouldn’t eat it, and big kids would spit in it,” neither of which happened.

America is the most obese country in the world. She talks about the fact that most kids don’t know how to eat healthy, because most of their food is being chosen for them by the schools, not by themselves. Most kids don’t know that a chicken doesn’t actually look like little squares that come on your plate, or that carrots grow in the ground. The generation of kids today is the first generation to live a shorter life than their parents. Another person attacking this issue is Jamie Oliver. In Jamie Oliver’s TED Prize wish: Teach every child about food he tells his audience about his experience in Huntington, West Virginia. Huntington was recently named the most obese city in America, thus consequently the entire world. He started in England by revising the lunch menu at several English schools. Over the years he has been trying to change the way people eat through his campaigns such as Jamie’s School Dinner, Ministry of Food, Food Revolution USA, as well as TV cooking shows such as “The Naked Chef” where he would teach people how to cook with the purest of ingredients. He proved that people could make a healthy meal that was also delicious.

According to the USDA’s National School Lunch Program, school lunches must meet the recommendations of the 1995 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. It states that no more than 30% of a person’s calories come from fat, and less than 10% from saturated fat. It also says that school lunches must provide one-third of the Recommended Dietary Allowances of protein, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, iron, calcium, and calories. Even though the USDA gives schools the information needed to provide children with healthy meals, the specific foods served and how they are prepared are chosen by the local school food authorities. States select foods for their schools from a list of various foods purchased by USDA and offered throughout the school lunch program.

The main problem, that Jamie Oliver faces, is that schools are taking short-cuts for these requirements. In a secondary school a lunch is required to have at least a cup and a fourth of fruit and vegetables. Now just think about this. A meal made up of roasted chicken, a roll, a cup of fresh fruit, and a stir fry of pasta and vegetables does not have the amount of vegetables to make the meal reimbursable. On the other hand, another meal made up of a chicken sandwich and fries meets all the requirements because french fries are considered a vegetable. Here is a clip from an episode of Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution on ABC where he has to deal with the challenge of cooking a meal for this secondary school.

A big point that Ann Cooper touches on is the influence of big agribusiness in what is put in our grocery stores and in our bodies. Most of what kids eat is being shipped in from all over. One of Cooper’s big stresses was that kids should be eating the local food, food that is grown and produced in the school’s area. Now, it is too expensive for a school to only serve their kids organic food, but the families of America can feed themselves food that are not absolutely stuffed with chemicals. There are so many herbicides, pesticides, antibiotics, and hormones. Cooper says, “70% of all antibiotics consumed in America is consumed in animal husbandry.” Because of these antibiotics we are getting sick with things like E. coli, and we just keep getting sicker.

The amount of pesticides US agriculture uses is about 2.1 billion pounds. That means that the average person consumes the equivalent of a five-pound bag every year. The biggest kicker is that the USDA allows this. This ad shown here from Time magazine was actually paid for by the USDA. In less than 200 years we have grown from a country being 95% farmers to a country being 2% farmers. We now have more criminals than we do farmers, and we spend about $35,000 a year just to keep a prisoner in jail yet a school will only spend $500 a year to feed a child.

The fact is that unhealthy eating can lead to:

  • Chronic and debilitating back and limb pain
  • High blood pressure, stroke, heart attack and cancer
  • Insulin dependence, blindness and loss of limb due to Type 2 Diabetes
  • Premature death

According to the CDC, the Center for Disease Control, of the children born in the year 2000 one out of every three Caucasians, and one out of every two African-Americans and Hispanics, are going to have diabetes in their lifetime, and most of them before they graduate high school. In turn meaning that 40-45% of all school-aged children could be insulin-dependent within a decade.

This slide portrays the largest excuse used by society for why we are so overweight. People say it’s the food making us fat, and they are right. The thing is that it doesn’t stop people from buying these foods, because they are cheap right? You want to know how they are able to make the food so cheap? The cheap substitutes, such as cheap corn and soy, companies pump into these processed foods is what makes these foods so cheap. Serving size is another problem. The USDA portion size of french fries is about a small hand full. Is that what McDonald’s and Burger King are selling? Of coarse not! The serving sizes are absolutely ridiculous. They are served in those red and yellow containers that are elongated to make it seem like there isn’t much food stuffed in them, the red and yellow colors are also deceiving making it look more appetizing to your brain. If you were to actually spill the contents of a Super Size fries order on a dinner plate, the fries would cover the bottom of the plate completely and be piled on top a good 3-4 inches. You might as well put it on a serving dish and use it at your next social gathering, because it would feed that many people.

The National School Lunch Program I mentioned earlier spends approximately 8 billion dollars feeding 30 million kids a year. In this country we spend 110 billion dollars on fast food, 100 billion on diet aids, and only 50 billion on vegetables. We spend 200 billion dollars a year on diet-related illness today, while 9% of our children have type 2 diabetes. That 8 billion dollars is cut down to only $2.49 that the government allows for lunches compared to the other expenses of this country. This means that we spend less than a dollar a day on food for children in schools, for most schools that is 80-90 cents or in LA 56 cents. Cooper uses a good example using Starbucks. She said,”A Venti latte in San Francisco is five dollars. One gourmet coffee is more than what we are spending to feed kids for an entire week in our schools.”

The last thing is that now in most schools, there isn’t a required physical education class. There might be one in a few elementary schools, but I know there aren’t in most secondary/high schools. So, not only are schools killing us with the foods they serve, they are not providing us with the exercise needed to maintain a healthy body.

As you can see, this is a subject that is very dear to me. I haven’t figured out yet what started my passion. I think it is because I recently realized what an unhealthy lifestyle can do to a person if they aren’t careful. I am definitely not the most in-shape person, and that is a big reason why this topic is so close to me. I know what can happen to me if I don’t take a different path with my life.


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