Archive for the ‘education’ Category
Corndogs, beef and gravy with mashed potatoes, and cheeseburgers—these are the lunches I recently witnessed being served to high school students in my cousin’s California classroom. How is it that a country that counts health care reform among its major domestic challenges feeds its youth artery-clogging carcinogens? The disconnect between our goals and our actions is astoundingly irrational.
In light of the economic crisis facing our nation and the world, perhaps some will question whether the food served to our young people warrants our attention. However, I think the economic crisis and our health care crisis can be linked to a shared core cause: our systemic inability to look at the big picture. It’s human nature to separate things—think of Sesame Street, “one of these things is not like the other”—, but this tendency ignores the connections that abound. Feeding kids junk food while lamenting the crisis of a type 2 diabetes epidemic and the skyrocketing costs of medical care makes no sense.
We Reap What We Sow
The food we feed our children is a function, not of ideal nutrition, but of the commodities supported by agricultural subsidies that have more to do with the influence of agribusiness lobbying than our national interests. The U.S. Department of Agriculture purchases hundreds of millions of pounds of pork, beef and animal products as well as surplus corn and wheat as a means of subsidizing the agricultural industry. These commodities are then donated to the federal school lunch program and other food-assistance programs such as the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (commonly known as WIC).
Some will say that we cannot afford to feed our kids fresh fruits and vegetables, that the convenience of processed corn, dairy and animal based pseudo-food is all we can afford. I say, this garbage is cheap because we already paid for it, and we’ll have to pay for it again and again in the form of lost lives and steep medical bills.
New Victory Gardens
I propose that we introduce programs in our schools to teach our youth to garden. Tear up the asphalt, expose the earth to the sun and the rain, and let our children experience their connection to life. What better way to study biology than to see first-hand the magic of a sprout emerging from the soil?
Summer vacation has its roots in the need of our ancestors for the labor of their children during the period leading up to harvest. Perhaps we need to return to our roots. Gardening classes and cooking classes that teach every day skills as well as science and math, with the benefit of improved nutrition, are ideas that, while still rare, are not unheard of. Alice Waters, famed founding mother of California cuisine and owner of Chez Panisse in Berkeley, started a program at a Berkeley middle school called “Edible Schoolyard” that transformed an asphalt acre into an oasis of nutrition, learning and community. Michael Murphy, Ph. D., who headed a two-year study conducted by the Harvard Medical School, concluded that students participating in Water’s program “are more enthusiastic about attending school, make better grades, eat healthier food due to wiser food choices, and become more knowledgeable about natural processes.”
Our grandparents supported the effort to defeat fascism by growing produce in yards now covered in drought intolerant and over fertilized sod. They were called “victory gardens.” We need a new movement of victory gardens: gardens planted with the hope of overcoming the crisis of childhood obesity and the environmental catastrophes resulting from our failure recognize the connection of our own well being with that of the bees, the birds, the worms, and the rest of creation.
And New Songs…
Perhaps we also need a new Sesame Street tune, one that teaches our children to see connections rather than differences, so that they can build a better world, a world rooted in the reality that we are in integral part of nature.
My five-year-old niece taught me a prayer she learned in school that, like all great poetry, speaks volumes in a few words:
The silver rain,
The shining sun,
And fields where scarlet poppies run,
And all the ripples of the wheat,
Are in the bread that I do eat.
So when I sit for every meal
And say a grace, I always fee
That I am eating rain and sun,
And fields where scarlet poppies run.
Before the flour the mill,
Before the mill the grain,
Before the grain, the sun, the earth, the rain,
The beauty of creation.
Blessings of the blossom,
Blessings on the fruit,
Blessings on the leaf and stem,
Blessings on the root,
Blessings on the meal.
We may think deeply of the ways and means
By which our food has come,
And consider our merit in accepting it.
By excluding greed from our minds
We help protect ourselves from error.
We accept this food so that we may become enlightened:
Homage to Christ,
Homage to the Divine Law,
Homage to Humanity,
Homage to Buddha,
Homage to the Dharma,
Homage to the Sangha.
—from Wendy E. Cook, Foodwise
Following her graduation from Boalt Hall in 1999, M. Renée Orth practiced business litigation in California with emphasis on employment, real estate and banking law. She now focuses on philanthropic efforts while indulging her passions for vegetarian cooking and traveling.