Food and Education Go Hand in Hand

13 Oct

School Nutrition Association has increased its lobbying efforts to turn back new nutritional standards. In 2010 new legislation was passed that limited sodium and increased fruits and vegetables in school lunches. These regulations were passed with bipartisan support, but have since come under attack by the SNA by creating “opt-out” options for school districts. Their “concern” being that the new regulations will raise the price of producing school lunches thus putting additional strain in the districts. Right here in Minnesota we have a great example of how to create healthier meals that taste great.

Bertrand Weber is the Director of Nutrition and Culinary Services for the Minneapolis Public Schools. After seeing how school food exacerbated his son’s type 1 diabetes, Weber transitioned from cooking at high end restaurants and hotels to managing culinary services for school districts. When he started his position at MPS, he signaled big things would be changing. Many schools now have salad bars and school kitchens are being renovated so food can be cooked on site again. Students like the changes. Participation in the school lunch program has risen from 58 to 66 percent in just 2 years. Weber’s success shows that schools can find creative ways to provide high quality food that meets the new standards.

Weber also shifted district food purchasing policy to buy more local fruits and vegetables.

This is part of a larger movement by anchor institutions to use their purchasing power to shift large markets. The Real Food Challenge is a national student led movement to shift 20% of the $5 billion higher education spends on food each year. The Real Food Challenge lobbies universities to commit at least 20% of their food purchasing power to community supported, sustainable, and justly produced food. This May, the California State University committed their entire system to 20% real food by 2020. With 447,000 students and a $100 million food budget, they are the largest signatory of the Real Food Challenge. The $20 million that will be shifted each year will support the local food economy, improve wages on tomato farms and coffee plantations, and improve the health of our ecosystems.

Minnesota educational institutions should sign the Real Food Challenge Commitment. The University of Minnesota has special commitments to agriculture through its status as a land grant university. It could support more just and sustainable food for its enrolled 69,000 students. MNSCU serves 430,000 students. Changing its food purchasing policy would have a similar impact as it has in California. The Minnesota public schools serve 845,177 students each year. A significant change in purchasing policy at public schools would have the largest impact of all.  Let’s make Real Food possible for all Minnesotans by having our public institutions lead the way.

 

This post was first published at MN2020

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