String Beans are Not Green

55% of DC residents are obese. 40% of families in DC with kids experience food hardships. Obesity costs DC 400 million dollars a year. These are staggering stats that I was made aware of on Monday at the Healthy School’s Act seminar.

Each day the staff of DC Central Kitchen’s Fresh Start Catering works to feed thousands of students in 9 schools across the district with locally sourced, seasonal, made from scratch meals with the hopes of slowly eradicating hunger and obesity in this city.

Feedings kids, as most of you know, can be very challenging. They are bamboozled by billions of dollars in marketing campaigns to get them to eat more sugars and fats from monopolies in processed convenience foods. It’s no wonder getting a kid to eat a carrot or a pear is a mile stone these days. We are honestly fighting ourselves in the battle to stop being fat and lazy.

I remember the first time I heard that this was the first generation to have a life expectancy LESS than their parents. That shook me. I don’t have kids but I know I want them one day. And at this rate, not because I am just a chef, but because I care about what my kid eats, I’m sure I’ll be a stringent parent seeking out schools with legit food services….or my kid(s) are getting home schooled.

In the fight against hunger and obesity in this country we have seen, especially this year, a large campaign from many political sectors as well as from the grassroots level to. Cities and small towns everywhere in this country, from L.A. to Chicago to NYC are finding ways to slowly make changes in making their school meals healthier. Chefs, food service providers, the White House, are all working steadily to increase access to healthy foods for our children and we are seeing a lot of change. These changes, top down are tangible in the schools DCCK is providing food services for. And though we now are mandated to offer whole grains, to provide a different kind of fruit each day for lunch, and even mandated to include a bean each week for lunch, there are still many areas that we, as a democracy, need to figure out how to fix.

“Green beans don’t count as a dark green vegetable but the romaine lettuce will,” our nutritionist tells me.

This is what I’m talking about. From my day to day work with schools, kids, parents, government officials, these are the micro areas we are seeing that need to be worked out. How can we tell a kid that the school wont get money back from the government if the food service providers use green beans for their lunch….because they aren’t…dark green enough….” At some point we took our eye off the ball. Local legislation at this point is the key to slowly implementing change in schools, along with parents vocalizing how pissed off they are.

Did I mention that romaine lettuce DOES count as a dark green vegetable?!

In the U.S. we spend about 9% of our annual income on food for our families where European countries and others spend about 30-40%….because they consider food a priority, an investment in the health of their families. No one is asking you or expecting you to spend 30% of your money on scallops and leafy arugula from the farmer’s market. But we need to rethink the way we priorities food in this country, with our schools and thus, our families. We need to realize what makes us feel good, what makes us savor life again….and you can do that all with the purchase of some discounted bruised apples and pears that are at the peak of their flavor at the local Giant or Stop and Shop.

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