Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Food Deserts and From-Scratch

Picture yourself: a 5th grader in your elementary school cafeteria.  You inch up to the serving line, hold out your tray and, “plop.”  What does the food look like on your tray?  Is it crisp, fresh and colorful or gooey, dull, and pre-packed?  From my experience, food from the cafeteria was more along the line of boxed mashed potatoes, frozen pizza, fried chicken nuggets and “smiley” fries.  My mother often did me the favor of packing my lunch, but many children in my school were not as fortunate.  In fact, with the food assistance program, students from low-income families were guaranteed cafeteria food on a daily basis.  Finally, after years of low-quality lunches, some schools are starting to take a stand through the “from-scratch movement.”

Since obesity is a national crisis, it is interesting to note that obesity is a concentrated problem in urban areas.  Limited access to fresh healthy foods is a major factor in increased urban obesity, as many communities are without access to a produce market or grocery store.  Instead, corner stores and convenience stores are readily accessible with processed, boxed, and canned foods.  These urban “food deserts” result in a lack of access to fresh, health and/or affordable foods.  Despite the increased urban need, a New York Times article notes, “Schools with money and involved parents concerned about obesity and nutrition charged ahead, while poor and struggling districts, overwhelmed by hard times, mostly did not.”  Yet again, budgets and income are determinants of access.

Fortunately, there is a school that is breaking the mold. Greeley school district in northern Colorado, “where 60 percent of the 19,500 students qualify for free or reduced-priced meals… will make a great leap forward in cooking meals from scratch” (Johnson, 2011).  It seems that despite other healthy food initiatives in Philadelphia, the school district is distracted by budget cuts.  Just like Chef Ramsey says on his hit show, Kitchen Nightmares, there is a common myth that fresh foods cost more, and in fact, schools would be doing themselves a  favor, budget wise, by moving to a “from-scratch” menu.  However, when distracted, do we often see reason? 

Americorps is beginning to move in fighting against “food deserts” through their recent creation of FoodCorps- “a new national service organization that aims to fight obesity and diet-related disease through promoting school gardens and farm-to-school programs” (Walsh, 2011).  With the from scratch movement and Food Corps, hopefully strides can be made, but as the federal government talks of cutting all funding for Americorps, it seems government budgets could be the end of these efforts.


Johnson, Kirk. "Schools Restore Fresh Cooking to the Cafeteria."Education. NY Times, 16 Aug. 2011. Web. 4 Oct. 2011. <http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/17/education/17lunch.html?_r=1&nl=todaysheadlines&emc=tha23>.

Kelly, John. "House Approps Would Eliminate AmeriCorps, Increase Head Start Funding."Youth Today. American Youth Work Center, 29 Sept. 2011. Web. 04 Oct. 2011. <http://www.youthtoday.org/view_article.cfm?article_id=5047>.

Walsh, Bryan. "Can FoodCorps Get America to Eat Healthfully? - TIME." Breaking News, Analysis, Politics, Blogs, News Photos, Video, Tech Reviews - TIME.com. Times Health, 23 Aug. 2011. Web. 04 Oct. 2011. <http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,2089995,00.html>.