Christian Long

Ann Cooper: Talks School Lunches

In TED Talks on May 24, 2010 at 10:26 am

Extra credit reflection by KATIE R.

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

Ann Cooper:  Talks School Lunches

We are what we eat! If that is the case then Ann Copper believes what children are eating in today’s school lunches is slowly killing us.

As the director of the Berkley school district nutrition program she has first-hand knowledge on what has been the common fare approved for feeding the children. Her goal is to change how children in America are being fed. In her opinion, in order to effect the change we first have to change how food is being produced, advertised and funded throughout the country and the schools. The major role in all these areas is to educate the public, children and adults, on the real problems we have in our food industry. We are in the midst of an epidemic that is seeing young children diagnosed with diseases, like diabetes, that in years past would have been only linked to adults. As it stands, our next generations will more than likely have greater health problems and a shorter life span than ourselves.

One of the major issues is which government agency oversees the quality of food in our country. The USDA sets the nutritional requirements and controls the quality of all types of food produced in or allowed into the USA. According to Ms. Cooper, food production in our country has seen a shift in the last 200 years from being independently farm grown to being controlled by only 10 major companies. The impression is that these companies may be putting pressure on the USDA to allow methods of food production that are benefiting the companies and putting our health at risk. They permit companies to use antibiotics, hormones and pesticides in food production. Antibiotics are used to promote “healthy” animals for human consumption and hormones are used to accelerate growth and increase production output of milk, eggs and beef. Pesticides are used to limit diseases that can harm crops allowing companies to produce large volumes of fruits and vegetables. However, in the process, they are putting the health of our population at risk. Ms. Cooper wants to change the system to promote the use of organic products that contain no unnatural components. If we would change the oversight of our food production to another agency, the CDC, then the government would be more likely to change the terms that regulate the food industry. The CDC is already seeing the alarming growth of diseases in our youth today. They are aware of the impact that growth will have on the overall health of our population in the long term.

This same food industry uses the USDA to allow these standards so they can bombard us with advertising on what and how much we should be eating. Ms. Cooper has an issue with the way the USDA promotes the quantity and type of food in their food pyramid. The food pyramid is supposed to be the model for how many servings of each food group we should include in our daily diet. Ms. Cooper believes that we are being steered in the wrong direction. Even in the area of portion control, the government has allowed big business to dictate the terms. We are constantly seeing our food portions increase in size. Maybe it is under the advertising tactic of “getting more” for your money. All the fast food chains allow you to “Supersize” your meal and restaurants serve substantially larger amounts of food per order. Big companies spend approximately 20 billion dollars annually to convince us that what they are selling is good for us. We are sold the idea that it is okay for us to eat more and pay less. Children are targeted by the promotion of “Happy Meals” that attract attention not by the quality of the food but by the “prize” included. Unfortunately, this seems to be the case for the types of eating establishments that cater to segments of the population that are most disadvantaged economically. Ms. Cooper would probably say that although these establishments are making the attempt to promote nutritious eating by allowing substitutions (fruit for fries, milk for coke) it is not enough. We need to change our habits at the core.

The next hurdle to overcome is the financial cost to overhaul the current system. Ms. Cooper realizes that providing organic based foods in to the school system is not inexpensive. Currently, the National School Lunch Program spends 8 billion dollars annually to fund school lunches for over 30 million children. She believes that if we spent twice that number we could make a good start on converting to a more nutritious system. If, in her opinion, we can spend over 100 billion dollars in diet aids, we can certainly afford to spend the additional 8 billion changing our children’s eating habits. If we do, then we can curtail the need for diet aid in the future because we will not have as large an obesity problem as today.

The biggest issue from Ms. Cooper’s discussion is that we all need to be educated, parents and children alike. We, as students, are sent to school to learn and it seems that in the area of lunch we are doing a great job learning the wrong lesson. We have grown up in a society that tells us fast food is what will make us grow up healthy, happy and strong. Our fast paced family lifestyles of work school, sports, dance and a multitude of extracurricular activities have made a sit down family meal almost extinct. It is must easier to grab a meal or go out to eat more convenient after a long day. But as Ms. Cooper points out, there is still hope. If we care about our future we will learn about where and how the food we eat arrives at our table. If we can accomplish that, we will change our own habits and pass these better habits on to the next generations. We can demand that companies be required to produce organic foods free of antibiotics, hormones and pesticides and in the process help keep our earth and environment healthier. Change is slow and old habits die hard. But, is it not better for our habits to die than our planet and ourselves.

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