Even with many schools pulling the USDA-approved, ammonia-treated cow bits otherwise known as “pink slime” from the lunch trays, school cafeterias still all-too-often rely on heavily processed foods treated with pesticides and loaded with preservatives. The food served in U.S. schools today is much lower in nutrients than fresh, local food – and travels on average 3,000 miles on its voyage from farm to lunch line. More than 31 million children depend on school lunch courtesy of the National School Lunch Program.
“The importance of food in schools can hardly be overstated,” noted Kathleen Rogers, president of Earth Day Network. “Yet, the food provided to schools is some of the lowest quality food in the country, in terms of both nutrition level and sustainability.”
In 1962, Congress designated the week beginning on the second Sunday in October each year as National School Lunch Week. President Obama called upon, “all Americans to join the dedicated individuals who administer the National School Lunch Program in appropriate activities that support the health and well-being of our Nation's children.”
National School Lunch Week had remained largely unobserved until the Obama administration, but even with the cheerleading Obamas’ efforts to publicize the initiative, the potential to make an impact with National School Lunch Week has gone untapped.
With this in mind, Earth Day Network, the tireless environment advocating organization, recently launched a new multi-year campaign to highlight National School Lunch Week and raise awareness about providing the K-12 set with healthy, sustainable food.
In its first year, the campaign will focus on school vegetable gardens and farm-to-school demonstrations, as well as encouraging commitments from schools and families to push for healthy and sustainable food during National School Lunch Week. Longer-range plans include delivering healthy-foods curricula to teachers, community screenings of a documentary film presenting school lunch success stories, a student poster contest, lobbying to bolster the National School Lunch Program, and more. The campaign’s programs will focus on pilot-project schools in low-income areas this year and will scale up over time.
The federal government has taken the first steps to achieve better nutrition in school food programs with the passage of the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act and the reaffirmation of National School Lunch Week. Earth Day Network and our partners now have a unique and significant window of opportunity to guide their implementation; to educate students, parents, and school officials; and ultimately to help change the way American children eat and think about their food.
This year, National School Lunch Week is October 15-19. To learn more about Earth Day Network’s National School Lunch Week Campaign, go to earthday.org.