When schools in California’s Sausalito Marin City District return to session this August, they were the first in the nation to serve their students 100 percent organic meals, sustainable sourced and free of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
“Students everywhere are vulnerable to pesticide residues and unsafe environmental toxins,” Turning Green founder Judi Shils said on Tuesday.“Not only does this program far exceed USDA nutritional standards, but it ties the health of our children to the health of our planet. It’s the first program to say that fundamentally, you cannot have one without the other.”
The organization says meals will be accompanied by nutrition and gardening education. The Conscious Kitchen previously served 156 students at Bayside MLK Jr. Academy, where it first tested the program starting in August 2013. Over the course of two years, the founders said, disciplinary cases decreased and attendance increased.
Moreover, the program will address the controversial issue of GMOs in school food. As environmental news outlet EcoWatch reports:
“This program is the first to take a stand against GMOs. While the long-term effects of GMOs are still uncertain, a growing body of evidence links them to a variety of health risks and environmental damage. An estimated 80 percent of items on most supermarket shelves contain GMOs, and they are ubiquitous in school food programs.”
Nutritional experts have long pointed out that food and beverages in schools have a long-term impact on children’s health and well-being. The 2010 Healthy and Hunger Free Kids Act required schools in the U.S. to update their meal provisions to meet new USDA nutritional standards and offer more whole wheat products, fresh fruits and vegetables, and lean proteins to children who receive subsidized school lunches.
But as the Berkeley-based nutritional nonprofit The Edible Schoolyard Project explains, it is equally important to prioritize food education.
“Schools that incorporate an integrated approach to edible education—combining local, seasonal food procurement strategies with hands-on lessons taught in the classroom, kitchen, and garden—are far more likely to sustain healthy school meal initiatives,” said Liza Siegler, the organization’s head of partnerships and engagement.
As Justin Everett, consulting chef with the Conscious Kitchen, explained on Tuesday, “By embracing fresh, local, organic, non-GMO food, this program successfully disrupts the cycle of unhealthy, pre-packaged, heat and serve meals that dominate school kitchens.”
Ed. Note: Parents, if you’re frustrated and feeling helpless about the food being served in the cafeteria where your children eat, here’s your chance to take action. Now that a precedent has been set in Sausalito, CA, I would suggest meeting with other parents in your district who have the same health concerns and putting a strategy together for compiling data to present to the Principal, or even your local school board to address the entire district.
It wouldn’t be a bad idea to contact the school board in Sausalito for feedback on how their program works, addressing budget concerns, data on disciplinary action and attendance, and any other pertinent information to build your case. You might ask about overall health of the student population and how that relates to improved attendance. Also, are there any local pediatricians who are willing to share their feedback on how the program has reduced office calls and if they’ve seen a reduction in specific health problems. You get the picture…get all the facts together and make a solid case before approaching school officials.
This is an idea long overdue, now is the time to take action in your community and make a difference where it counts, with future generations.