I'm a staff writer for the Justmeans Sustainable Food blog, which means I have an excuse to spend a bit of time each week researching topics that I'm really passionate about, like local food systems, community garden projects, food security, and farm to institution efforts. Offline, I coordinate a community garden project on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington....
Sustainable Food Back on the Table: Reviving the Child Nutrition Reauthorization Bill
Child nutrition is a tenant of a sustainable food system. If we don't encourage and educate our children to eat healthy, whole foods then there's little hope for building a healthy national food system in the future. While the proposed Child Nutrition Reauthorization act may not promise such lofty goals as connecting all school meal programs to local, organic farms, it does offer $4.5 billion to help straighten out a school food culture gone awry, and is backed by Michelle Obama's campaign for healthier school lunches. After being passed by the Senate earlier this year, the Child Nutrition bill has run into some road blocks on its way through Congress, primarily because the bill originally proposed to pay for a portion of that $4.5 billion using funds from the federal food stamp program, SNAP. But the Obama administration has now promised to restore food stamp benefit funds used to offset the child nutrition bill, which may change the minds of the few Congress members in opposition to the bill.
The Child Nutrition Reauthorization bill is viewed by many school health and sustainable food advocates as essential, and if passed it will improve the quality of food served in school lunches as well as expand the free school meal program for low income students. Michelle Obama has lobbied lawmakers to revamp school lunch nationwide, and the exact standards have yet to be determined by the US Department of Agriculture. Generally, however, this revision of school food won't exactly do away with the old standbys that make sustainable food folks cringe. Hamburgers and other staples will still be on the lunch menu. The change will be in the quality of those hamburgers, meaning that they will be made of leaner meats and served on whole grain buns. This bill isn't revolutionary, but it certainly is a step in a positive direction, especially when it comes to the health of our children.
But as of yet, the bill is at a stand still, and time is running short. The recent elections mean that Congress will change quite a bit in the next session, and the current lame duck assembly has a limited amount of time to push important bills like this one through before having to start from scratch in the new year. Unfortunately, the Child Nutrition Authorization will probably pass more smoothly through the current Democrat-heavy Congress, rather the more conservative line up that is impending. As time ticks away, those few Democrats who remain skeptical about the bills funding should do their best to feel at ease with the administration's goal of maintaining funding for SNAP in these tough economic times while also funding this critical CNR bill. To show your support for healthier, and (hopefully) more sustainable food on the school lunch table, you can sign a petition at the Hunger Action Center's website, and tell your Congress members just how important this bill is to the future of sustainable food.
Photo credit: chidorian