[SLIDESHOW] Top 5 Takeaways From The Hudson Valley School Food Summit

School Food SummitLast month representatives from the RCSD Wellness Committee, Chancellor Livingston Nutrition Committee and Nourish Rhinebeck attended the first (hopefully annual?) Hudson Valley School Food Summit: Celebrating Our Children, Food and Future.

Scroll down to see our slideshow.

Sponsored by Rondout Valley Growers Association, From the Ground Up, Slow Food Hudson Valley, Ulster Corps, Marlbetown PTF and the Chefs Consortium, the event was designed to spark local dialogue and action on farm-to-school initiatives. The highlight of the summit was a panel discussion by national and local school food experts:

INFOGRAPHIC: 98% of the ads targeting children were for foods that are high fat, high sugar and high sodiumThe discussion was eye-opening, rousing and frank. The food we are serving to our children – sugar-spiked snacks, soda, antibiotic- and hormone-laced meat, trans fats – is making them sick. Children are bombarded with $2 billion in advertising – tv, schools, mobile devices, video games, magazines – from food and beverage companies. There never used to be “kid” food, it was just food, and we all ate it.

This is the first generation of children that, statistically speaking, will die before its parents. The list of organizations sounding the alarm about obesity and diabetes, and the staggering financial and societal costs associated with them, are astounding – Centers for Disease Control, Harvard School of Public Health, Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity, U.S. Military, Center for Science in the Public Interest, American Heart Association, and the list goes on and on.

This is a big, thorny, entrenched problem. We must change our children’s relationship to food, or else prescribe them to short lives filled with preventable illnesses.

That’s the bad news. Now let’s talk about the good news.

All across America, and right here in New York State and the Hudson Valley, change is happening. It’s incremental, hard-fought and tenuous. But it’s happening, and the panelists generously shared their stories to embolden and empower more of it.

Here are some of our favorite stories from the summit.

1. Kids to Cafeteria: Give Us Back Our Beets!

“When we took away the beets, onions and chick peas from the salad bar, that’s when the kids complained the loudest,” said Chef Tim Cipriano, who revamped the New Haven, Conn., schools lunch program to offer local food, new salad bars, cooking classes and whole-wheat pancakes, among other healthy choices. (He also slowly cut out fried food, Doritos and chocolate milk, which Chef Ann calls “soda in drag.”) He’s moved to the Guilford school district to do it all again.

Salad bars in schools have been a tremendous success. The Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools project has raised over $5 million to fund salad bar projects in schools, bringing fresh fruits and veggies to more than 1.1 million kids nationwide.

2. This Exists: School gets veggies and grass-fed beef from a CSA!

There was an audible gasp when Keene Food Services Director Julie Holbrook said she buys grass-fed organic beef from a local farmer. “[The farmer] gives me a good price for it, and I just use less meat, but better quality.” Julie said she gradually made changes to her program – baking bread from scratch, eliminating chocolate milk – and now it makes more money than when it relied more on packaged and processed foods. “Our workers care more about their work, too.”

3. Did you hear the one about the principal who turned chocolate milk into a debate topic?

chocolatemilk

Chef Ann Cooper calls the chocolate milk served in schools “soda in drag.”

Professor Janet Poppendieck travels all over the country talking to food service directors and studying what’s working and what’s not in school lunch programs. One of her favorite stories was this: When one elementary school was considering eliminating chocolate milk, the principal asked every grade to debate the topic and vote to keep or cut. After several months of open debate and discussion, the students voted to cut chocolate milk.

4. This food services director takes house calls.

“I’m in the grocery store and my son says you make butternut squash and he loves it. He just saw one and wants me to make it, but I have no idea how to cook it.” 

This was an actual mobile phone conversation between a student’s mother and food service director Todd Fowler. Todd’s students are so enthusiastic about the delicious food he’s serving in school that they are asking for it at home. Todd has great relationships with local farmers, and is even considering starting a farmer’s market in school to help raise money for the school lunch program.

5. Fresh local food does not run up the budget. It shifts it.

Free for All: Fixing School Food in AmericaBack to Janet again. In her studies of the costs of food service programs, she says there is no increase in total price of a program that shifts to local foods. The price of food actually comes down, while the cost of labor goes up, putting more money into the pockets of local farmers and workers vs. national food service companies.

We can change lives through food.

That was the key takeaway from the summit. Prioritize wellness as a core value, keep making baby steps and don’t be discouraged. Science and public health are on your side.

Slideshow: A taste of the Hudson Valley School Summit

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