22% percent of children under the age of 18 are food insecure according to the United States Department of Agriculture. This means that one out of five of your students…look around…didn’t have enough to eat, or does not always have access to the basic nutrition when he or she goes home. It’s a little less in states like Massachusetts, where the number is only 16%–that means only twoish in your class of twenty didn’t eat properly today. The number rises in states like California where 27% might have skipped the basic student nutrition. This is ironic, since California is where so much of the nation’s produce is grown.
Our class discussed this recently. “When we talk about food insecurity or water problems, someone in every class says, ‘Africa.’ Take a moment to look around your own community. Think of the people. Your friends, your family, someone you know, maybe even one of you have experienced this. Could food insecurity be right here?” I’ve fed kids. I know the answer to this question.
I tell a story. “Who here knows about government cheese?” A few kids look up. Nobody knows government cheese. Turns out, the government isn’t in the cheese business anymore. “Government peanut butter?” Blank stares. These are relics of the past. Now, all students know about is free and reduced lunch and EBT cards. Both of these are often a godsend.
During the 80’s the government bought surplus products like five-pound blocks of unidentifiable cheese, and peanut butter that needed a boat motor to stir. I remember that cheese. It was an orange color not quite found in nature. Mom froze it–who needs five pounds of cheese at once? The freezing made it crumble and taste worse. It was not very good, but could be salvaged by making a grilled cheese.
It’s difficult to teach students that are hungry. We’ve come a long way toward achieving better nutrition in the United States, but we’re still not there. No one teacher can solve this problem, but many school systems try by enacting lunch programs in high-need areas that carrying them over into the summers. Luckily, there are many people in the nation trying to end hunger, which is entirely preventable in a nation like the United States.
A student who has not eaten cannot learn.
Mike Schultz discusses the very real problem of food insecurity in schools, and how they manifest as behavior or performance issues. This is an awareness issue. Many people do not know how deep the issue goes. Urban areas get most of the focus but rural areas often have great pockets of need as well.
Americans waste a shocking 25% of all the food to which we have access. Sometimes this is in the form of unpicked harvest or surplus, and other times it is the food that comes into our homes and sits in the fridge. Overcooking, unused leftovers, and preventable spoilage add to this total costing the nation nearly one billion dollars each year in disposal fees. Much of this food is perfectly good food–estimates show that more than 40% of food spoils on farms. Fortunately there are people working on these problems. I have a California friend who participates in gleanings, and organizations such as the St. Andrew Society organize efforts to save produce nationwide. This is not only an opportunity to help those in need, but time for communities to come together and build fellowship around some critical issues that face society.
Dulcie Wilcox’s board shows how communities can help improve their school lunch programs. The bottom line is this, school lunches cost money. When communities make a commitment to quality lunch programs, students benefit.
What’s the quality of food in your school’s lunch? Higher quality food produces results in terms of health and academic performance. The public outcry against lower-quality ingredients has produced a movement to raise awareness of inferior ingredients and ask the question, “Can we do better?”
Many communities are helping to alleviate hunger through urban gardening. Urban gardening brings food into areas where larger markets and grocery chains don’t venture. Urban gardens are popping up more and more, and people are forming organizations to develop techniques for producing more with less land as creatively as possible. It’s something to behold.
Many people plant foods in unused area–guerilla gardens–for the benefit of all. From tossing clay seed pods that sprout flowers on ugly road medians to taking over vacant city lots planting vegetables, guerilla gardening has grown as a movement, complete with organizations and websites. This is often technically trespassing, but guerilla gardeners feel that hey’re transforming the landscape into healthful food and beauty for all to share.
People often confuse food insecurity and hunger. Overweight children can also suffer from food insecurity, which implies the child does not have proper nutrition. I have tutored in homes where I did not see a meal cooked. Bags of fast food were all that entered. Part of this was due to the location of the home–grocery stores do not pop up in low income areas. Luckily, farmer’s markets and urban gardens are beginning to. This board also discusses the history and nutrition behind the USDA school lunch.
School gardens educate students. Students who experience gardening first-hand try foods they might never have seen. They experience a taste self-sufficiency and respect their food, discovering how difficult it is to grow. They encounter produce that might have seemed intimidating, or uncommon, but taste really great.
Social entrepreneurs Ellen Gustafson and Danielle Nierenberg created Food Tank to help bridge the gap between several food justice issues like food access, obesity, sustainable farming, and the politics of food. These food justice issues require education and public advocacy. Food Tank wants to help raise aware food issues and innovate solutions to food problems increasing food quality, accessibility and sustainability.