Friday, February 11, 2011

Notes From The Food Revolution: Part One of Two

It came down to ranch dressing. I have been wanting to create an opportunity for the cook, the business manager, the nutritionist and myself to sit down face to face and talk about school lunch. I have forwarded articles and information on nutrition , had discussions in the hallway and the staff room and generally voiced my concerns repeatedly. Last fall it came to light that the cook was putting Hershey's strawberry syrup in the milk in an attempt to get the kids to drink more. She believed that the benefits outweighed the risks. She was well intentioned but wrong. There isn't a strawberry  or a strawberry byproduct in Hershey's strawberry syrup. It consists of high fructose corn syrup, chemicals and artificial flavoring.

What finally brought us all together in the same room was not any of the concerns I had voiced. It was the ranch dressing. The business manager, who has been leading the health efforts at this school for many years, began to notice that the children dumped inordinate amounts of ranch dressing onto their vegetables and salads. Everybody who pays attention to health issues notices different issues. I notice pop machines and obese athletic directors (every athletic director I have known in my fifteen years in Klickitat county has been obese as are most of the coaches; modeling anybody?)

I felt momentary hesitation to join the meeting or fully voice all of my concerns. I have been a change agent for over twenty five years now and I prefer to approach any issue with strategy. I think of change more like a chess game than checkers. I refer frequently to the Chinese classic "The Art of War." I like to have all the pieces in place before proceeding whenever possible. My apprehension doubled when the cook blurted out that morning:

"So are you going to attack me in that meeting?"

I silently and internally thanked her for revealing her position. She works very hard at her job. Each summer she nurtures her own organic garden and the produce is often featured in the meals. She has been working with nutrition issues far longer than I have. Finding the balance between what is healthy, what is affordable and what kids will actually eat is akin to the Gordian knot with perhaps a similar solution. Her comment also gave my pause and a moment to reflect on my own actions and behavior in my appointed task of making schools healthier. Clearly I had been too forward and aggressive in my approach.

The nutritionist and I were essentially on the same team. He comes in several times a week to teach hands on cooking classes across all the grades. His mission as he states often and clearly is to reduce childhood obesity. That he does this in a hands on manner puts him at the front of the pack in my opinions. Everything he cooks comes from scratch.

The business manager held the position of health czar long before I came along. Staff still quiver when on occasion they dare to bring a box of doughnuts to the staff room.Although she does all the purchasing for the food program, it's not really her position to make all the strides she has so far.

The four of us sat in the business manager's office trying to solve one seemingly simple problem: too much ranch dressing. I did not want to speculate out loud that perhaps the food was so bland that the children needed something cover it up with something. Ranch dressing and mayonnaise simply lack imagination. Maybe that was the issue. Maybe we just all lacked imagination!

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