Last week, we began telling you about celebrity chef, Mario Batali’s “Food Stamp Challenge” initiative. For one week, the acclaimed chef challenged Americans (and his own family) to “walk in someone else’s shoes” by eating only what they would be able to buy with food stamps. Batali, the star of ABC’s “The Chew,” partnered with the New York City Food Bank to raise awareness about potential cuts to the food stamp program, which helps feed millions of Americans. The food stamp guidelines amount to $31 per person, per week, or $1.48 per meal! Instead of filling up on fresh, organic vegetables, he’s been feeding his family more beans and starches like egg and bean tacos and lentils and rice.
What this initiative brings home to us is the need for families of all income levels to educate themselves on wellness and nutrition—as well as eating and cooking options—especially at a lower income level. Mario Batali may be giving up his $4 lattes from a specialty coffee house, but most families struggle with larger and more fundamental issues, like what to make for dinner that will be healthy, and not break the bank.
Have you heard the term "pink slime" in the press lately? It's getting a lot of attention-from the USDA, to the beef industry to schools providing meals to children. We want to feature this topic in this week's blog to highlight our educational mission. We are committed to helping our Red Rabbit followers and school partners gain a better understanding of where our food comes from, and how to make informed choices about the foods we buy and consume, both as a company and as individuals. In this case, both sides of the issue are passionate and adamant about their positions...but, we'll let you decide...
The additive, known in the industry as "lean finely textured beef", is made from scraps remaining after cattle are butchered into cuts such as steaks and roasts. Processors remove the fat from trimmings and as some of these scraps are very close to the bone, organs or other "non-commercially viable parts", they are often treated with ammonium hydroxide (a.k.a., ammonia) to remove the possibility of bacteria, E Coli, salmonella, etc. The product is then mixed with ground beef, making it leaner, according to the industry, but making it more toxic according to others.
It's time to start talking about solutions, not only the problems. I believe we can have an impact on the issues facing our society regarding healthy food in schools and the obesity epidemic if we focus on both ends of the spectrum—the bottom-up local grass roots level and the top down regulatory and government level.
From the top:
We live in a country where USDA nutrition standards consider (using only a few examples here) pizza and French fries as vegetables—which means they can be served to our school-aged children every day of the week. If that is the standard that we set; if the bar is set at that low a level, then kids are far from safe. No one can re-invent the system overnight, but parents and educators need to step up and say, “this is not helping our children and it must change.”
Here is another awful oversight in our current system: refined foods. None of the school nutrition standards in place today address those at all. Until Congress changes the guidelines, large companies will not change what they serve. We all know pesticides, chemicals and preservatives are horrifically bad for us—as kids and adults. Yet, we treat all fruits and vegetables the same. Do you think peaches that were grown on a farm 50 miles away and picked yesterday have the same nutritional value as those that were picked 6 months ago, shipped half way around the world, dumped into a sugary syrup (most likely high fructose corn syrup) and canned? Take a look at the typical school lunch fare and you will find more of the latter than the former.
Studies have shown that food dyes and other additives can increase hyperactivity and cause other behavioral problems; children who ate fast food three or more times per week performed lower on standardized tests in reading and math. Today, Red Rabbit is successfully bringing healthy meals to thousands of school children across the Greater New York Area every day, with great results.
Though I think the Let's Move Campaign is a terrific first attempt at setting a good example, we need to go further and deeper into the system to make wellness, fitness and healthy food options something all kids—of all socioeconomic backgrounds—have access to.