Up in the Air, Heaven in My Hair

——-

Gradually, like the end of a brushstroke stretched for a thousand miles
the Great Plains rise to mountains
across strawberry fields and out to sea.

From a privileged, floating perch
I can see the world come back together

as Winter covers the lines we have drawn between us.

Every religion, every color and gender
is touched by the same invitation.

Subject to the winds, like everything else.

Flight carries a unique perspective
and the descent, in me,

anticipation.

For we are human.
And I yearn to see this vastness inside people,

to walk with heaven in my hair,

To travel and to question,
not for answers,

but simply to explore.

——-

digger

Douglass DeCandia is the Food Growing Program Coordinator at the Food Bank for Westchester, which operates on five sites located throughout Westchester County – Leake & Watts Residential Campus, New York School for the Deaf, Sugar Hill Farm at Westchester Land Trust, Westchester County Department of Correction and Woodfield Cottage.

The Real Problem With Lunch

Houston — THERE’S something about comparing America’s school food to the superior meals in other countries’ schools that we seem to enjoy, in a masochistic sort of way.

The latest example is Michael Moore’s new documentary, “Where to Invade Next,” which opens nationwide next month. Mr. Moore visits a village in Normandy and finds schoolchildren eating scallops, lamb skewers and a cheese course. He tells us, astonishingly, that the chef “spends less per lunch than we do in our schools in the United States,” and ends the segment by showing French students and adults photos of the food served in a Boston high school. As they pore over the pictures in puzzlement and horror, we read subtitled comments like “Seriously, what is that?” and “Frankly, that’s not food.”

That scene drew a lot of laughs, but as someone who has written about school food for almost six years, it made me want to scream in frustration. One might easily conclude from this segment that our students could have these same delicious meals, cooked from scratch, if only our school districts weren’t cheap, mismanaged or somehow captive to the processed food industry. But the problem with America’s school food has little to do with the schools themselves.

Let’s start with money. The federal government provides a little over $3 per student per lunch, and school districts receive a smaller contribution from their state. But districts generally require their food departments to pay their own overhead, including electricity, accounting and trash collection. Most are left with a dollar and change for food — and no matter what Mr. Moore says, no one is buying scallops and lamb on that meager budget.

Contrast this with France, where meal prices are tied to family income and wealthy parents can pay around $7 per meal. Give that sum to an American school food services director and you may want to have tissues handy as he’s likely to break down in incredulous tears.

Then there’s labor and infrastructure. We criticize schools’ reliance on highly processed, heat-’n’-eat food, but cooking from scratch requires adequate cold storage and food preparation facilities, as well as trained workers. Since 2009, the federal government has provided around $200 million for school kitchen improvements, but in 2014 the Pew Charitable Trusts showed that schools’ total needs exceed $5 billion. And even if a kitchen is fully outfitted for cooking, the cost of hiring skilled cooks can be prohibitive.

Given these considerable challenges, it isn’t surprising that cooking from scratch is the exception in our country’s schools. There are districts serving exemplary meals. But some are often either running a deficit or reliant on private philanthropy, which is hardly a model on which we can rely nationwide.

And what about the students on the other side of the serving line? Nothing in our nation’s food environment primes them to embrace fresh, healthful school meals. The top four sources of calories in the average American child’s diet are grain-based desserts, pizza, soda and sports drinks, and bread. One-third eat fast food every single day. More than 90 percent don’t eat enough vegetables. And each year, our children are bombarded byaround $2 billion in child-directed food and beverage advertising, much of which promotes the least healthy products.

Ideally, of course, the cafeteria would be a classroom in which to counter these unhealthy forces, but the fiscal survival of any school food program rests on student participation. When a director swaps out pizza for a wholesome sandwich or serves salad instead of fries, she risks losing customers — to home-packed lunches, vending machine snacks or off-campus fast food — and running her program into the red. She also has to compete with the on-campus junk food that’s sold to raise money for the band or football team, a practice limited by recent regulation but far from eradicated.

Contrast all this with France, where vending machines are banned on campus and even home-packed lunches are discouraged. French law requires that junk food ads bear a countermessage promoting healthful eating. And France takes its citizens’ food literacy so seriously that it provides “taste training” in its schools.

America isn’t France, of course, and we’re unlikely to ever serve our schoolchildren roasted guinea fowl or a daily cheese course. But we’re so far on the other end of the spectrum, it’s laughable.

Case in point: This coming week, Congress is scheduled to take up the Child Nutrition Act, which every five years sets the funding for federal child nutrition programs, including school meals. Yet despite all the financial pressures school districts face, few expect the per-meal reimbursement rate to rise significantly.

School meals in other countries fascinate us because they reflect a society’s true food culture, as well as its regard for its children. Here in America, schools are doing the best they can to meet the nutritional needs of millions of children every day, but unfortunately our society is unwilling to do what it takes to truly feed them well.

Bettina Elias Siegel writes about children and food at The Lunch Tray.

A version of this op-ed appears in print on January 16, 2016, on page A19 of the New York edition with the headline: The Real Problem With Lunch.

Good Food for Hudson’s Successful First Season

Thank you to everyone in our Community who supported the successful first season of the Good Food for Hudson Initiative. Through the thoughtful and generous contributions of our Community, Good Food for Hudson was able to overcome food access barriers, positively impacting the lives and meal times of numerous families in Hudson for 20 weeks last summer.

From June to October, 2015, we were able to distribute:
– 500 boxed shares of vegetables to 25 seniors and special needs residents of Providence Hall, and
– 500 “unboxed,” market-style and free choice shares to over 25 families we met with weekly at Great Hudson Promise Neighborhood’s community center.

All remaining vegetables from each week’s harvest were brought to Pamela Badilla, who further spread Good Food for Hudson’s impact by sharing the vegetables with Perfect Ten families and others in the community otherwise unable to access the area’s seasonal bounty.

The Good Food for Hudson program, and our vegetables, were met with a genuine gratefulness from Farm Share Members. People excitedly shared old family recipes, placed requests for the next week’s harvest, and even brought us samples of their vegetable-inspired culinary masterpieces from the previous week’s harvest.

Please enjoy our new Good Food for Hudson video documenting our mission, community support, and impact – and then please do share it widely! In the coming season, we plan to expand Good Food for Hudson to include offerings of locally baked bread and eggs from local pastured hens. Look for further news coming soon, regarding our Winter Fundraiser and our upcoming season.

Thank you for your support.

Sincerely,
Your Farmers,
Jen and Jon Ronsani
Good Food for Hudson Founders,
Lineage Farm Farmers.

So Completely Filled

——-

The peaches and cream colored sunrise
I watched on hilltop this morning
made me hungry,
so I started back

toward home the long way.

Through the forest, along uneven trails of earth and stones
and the river; the quiet, winding river
I have traced so many times upon my lovers back;
each curve and bend

a fractal ode to the persistence of Life’s pattern.

This memory kept me warm
as the air turned grey and cold
and followed me to my little cabin,
wherein awaited a fire

and a cup of bitter tea.

Sipping
   these
      slowly
my insides rejoiced

like a valley replenished by a flood,

and I wondered
on the temptress, sugar,
on the satiety of movement,
and how the graceful ways of Nature
can fill one so completely.

——-

digger

Douglass DeCandia is the Food Growing Program Coordinator at the Food Bank for Westchester, which operates on five sites located throughout Westchester County – Leake & Watts Residential Campus, New York School for the Deaf, Sugar Hill Farm at Westchester Land Trust, Westchester County Department of Correction and Woodfield Cottage.