Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Why I do Food Revolution Friday

You've all seen me evolve from the mom who cooks into this Food Revolution activist of sorts, but what I have never blogged about is something that is really close to my heart and in fact, the real story behind what inspired me to go down this path. I can't talk publicly and in detail about what sent me here-but today, right now, I'm on the verge of something bigger and I can't stay quiet anymore.

We need a revolution in BC.

What? I'll bet you all thought that we were doing pretty well, and that it's just our neighbors to the south that are living on fast food in their school lunches, with the obesity rates skyrocketing, that need help. We have the Healthy Living Guidelines, right? We have rules that make schools not able to provide instant noodles in their lunch lines, right?

Wrong. Everything looks good on paper, but it's not perfect here either, and I haven't even gotten to the worst of it.

In the USA, schools have programs to feed low income children. In BC, not so much. What I know is only bits and pieces through my own experience, but from what I've seen in the smaller towns there are only a smattering of programs here and there, depending on if someone wants to take it on. In an elementary school, a PAC might have a stash of food for kid who are hungry. Some schools have breakfast programs, but sometimes they only run a few days a week. High school? Some have nothing, some offer toast or a bowl of white rice.

Well, you say, we had the Olympics here! There are million dollar homes! Surely BC can't be that bad, right?

According to the First Call: BC Child and Youth Advocacy Coalition, BC has had the highest child poverty record in Canada for seven years running. (read more here). While it has been declining, we are still at the top. More sobering is this statistic,

"In 2009 alone over 80% of BC's food banks saw an increase in people needing food, and one third of food bank users are children."

Let that sink in while I repeat that. One third of food bank users ARE CHILDREN. This article by a fellow food blogger who visited the Greater Vancouver Food Bank gives you a look at how the operation runs. In that case, 40% of the users are children.

How does being hungry at school affect kids? They don't concentrate well and often have behavior issues that get them removed from the classroom. Some resort to stealing food from other kids. Their peers try to help by giving them their leftovers or unwanted food, so a child might end up consuming fries and a slushie for lunch every day of the week. They may be overweight because their bodies just aren't getting the nutrients they need. In elementary school, people usually make sure the kids eat because who wants to see a 7 year old go hungry but in high school? Often there's very little. People are put off by cranky teenagers, and if any of you have had a teenage boy, you know how much they need to eat.

The other day I met a school chef, and as we began talking, she shared some startling news. I knew that the government had cut school funding, but what I didn't know was that the cuts also affects school chefs and breakfast/lunch programs. This passionate woman shook her head as she told me that when the chefs protested in their cut in hours, saying that there was no way they could prepare lunch and breakfast for their kids in that amount of time, they were told, "Well we'll just cut out breakfast altogether then."

What these bureaucrats don't realize is that those meals are the ONLY meals some of those kids receive. They haven't looked a hungry child in the face, asking for food when you have none.

I have. That is what drives me to do what I do.

Months ago, I was on my long drive home from work, deep in thought. The night before I had watched Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution and he was sitting in a playground, saying that when he follows his heart, that's when the magic happens and suddenly, Michael Jackson's "Man In the Mirror" came over my stereo.

"I'm starting with the Man in the Mirror
I'm asking him to change his ways
And no message could've been any clearer
If you want to make the world a better place
Take a look at yourself then make a change."

Call it cliche and idealistic, but suddenly I just knew.

If I wanted change, I had to DO SOMETHING. Not just write. It's easy to sit here in my warm house with a full fridge and wax poetic about school food. It's entirely different to get your hands dirty, get right in there and make sure that kids are being fed. Let's face it; advocating doesn't win you friends, as this article in the Guardian about Jamie Oliver pointed out. People aren't always supportive and you risk being criticized.

I don't care anymore. Kids need to be fed. PERIOD.

By being fed, I don't mean buying the $.25 packages of instant noodles that the kids probably have at home. I mean fruit, vegetables, soup, homemade muffins, those homemade pizza pretzels, thick sandwiches, and milk. Good, healthy food packed in a way so that the lunches look just like everyone else's and there's no stigma.

The chef I met shared with me how the Healthy Living Guidelines are great, but nobody trained school chefs how to cook within them, by making things like chicken stock from scratch rather than using the processed, MSG filled kind. I was horrified to learn that schools are still serving instant noodles even though they aren't allowed to under the Healthy Living Guidelines but the truth is, there's nobody to enforce the rules. Instant noodles don't seem like a priority when you have no money for textbooks and classes with 10 IEPs in them.

We parents are powerful, you know. I know this first hand from advocating for my own child through the school system. Together, we CAN cause change-but we have to get up, quit talking, and DO SOMETHING. The parents, the staff, the school chefs, all of us, together. I talked with her and promised that if she sent me the information, I'd share with all of you what is REALLY happening in Vancouver schools.

Why do I do this? Kevin asked me this the other day in the car. Wouldn't it be easier not to? It's not really my job, after all. Or is it? Isn't there a saying that it takes a community to raise a child? Wouldn't I, back in the days when we were desperate and fighting a school district for accommodations for my own child's needs have been relieved if someone else had supported us? Isn't it our job as a community to help those in need, especially kids?

The truth is, you haven't seen anything until you've seen a hungry child's face light up with sheer joy because you've handed them a healthy lunch. Knowing that I've been able to do something important, something tangible, something life changing for someone gives me more joy then anything else you can imagine.

THAT is all I need.

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