Throughout my life, fruits and vegetables have always surrounded me. At my house, my mother has always worked in a garden, and whenever I am hungry, I walk up to the garden and pick some strawberries or an orange. Fruits and vegetables also surrounded me at my school. At our lower school, we had a garden program where we learned about how to grow each plant, and our garden teacher would sometimes make a treat for us with the fruits and vegetables we harvested from our very own garden.
One time, Ms. Svedlund, our science and garden teacher, had us picking apples in garden class. She made sure that we were all picking apples not just on the tree, but the apples on the ground that were still OK. She told us that the apples were still good to eat, and somewhere in the world, a child didn’t have the same opportunity to eat these foods.
So when we finished picking the apples, Ms. Svendlund taught us how to make apple butter with the apples we had picked. I think that all of us kids thought that the apple butter tasted even more special than normal because we were the ones who got to make it, and nobody else outside of our school got to try our special apple butter. Little did I know at the time, some of the other schools in our community weren’t even getting to eat their own special apple butter, because they didn’t have any.
I didn’t know that there are some kids who are living in low-income families who primarily eat the things that my teachers and parents strongly discouraged me from eating: processed foods. I didn’t know people are eating these foods because they are the cheapest on the shelf with the most calories to fill them up, and with their shortage of income, it is all they can afford to spend on food. I didn’t know that families aren’t getting good vitamins and nutrients from their foods, and all of the calories are making them overweight.
The only place where kids from low-income families can count on getting a meal is at school, where they are in school lunch programs. The nation is giving $9 billion to school lunches, but schools are using this money “to pay for everything from custodial services to heating in the cafeteria.” The money that is leftover from expenses other than feeding the kids is only a little more then 20 cents per child for their lunches.
Alice Waters, owner of the restaurant Chez Panisse and also someone who helps educate people about healthy foods, believes that a solution to this issue should be a requirement: Schools should spend at least $5 on each child’s lunch and should get better chefs to cook the food. “It could be done,” she says.
I agree with Waters: This solution would be beneficial to the problem; however, it would take a long time to install the system and get it running.
My solution to the problem would be to create a program similar to our program at the lower school. Kids won’t just eat something that is put in front of them without being familiar with it. Atlantic editor and author David Freedman explains the problem: Will kids really “be ready to drop their Big Macs, fries and Cokes for grilled salmon on chard”?
Because of this wariness to new foods, my program would educate the kids on what the fruits and vegetables are, teach the kids how to grow the fruits and vegetables, and then incorporate the produce that they grow into their school lunch program. Educating kids about what the foods are and how to grow them will help them later in life, because this program could inspire them to do something just like my lower school’s garden program inspired me.
Just like every good thing, there are some complications with this solution — such as money. If kids are coming from low-income families, they probably aren’t going to schools with money overflowing through their windows and doors. Schools would have to get more money from the government to build garden beds and the tools needed for the garden. I understand that this is a lot of money needed, but if the government did give money, its money would be worth it because the kids coming out of the schools have a more rounded education, and they are healthier because of the produce that they are growing for their lunch program.
This solution isn’t going to fix the obesity problem, but it can help. Completely fixing the issue will involve time and sacrifice, but I think that it’s everyone’s duty to make sure that this problem does not last long, and we can only do that if people help. If everyone can pitch in to turning this problem around, we can fix it a lot faster. It must go faster. Even if you can’t do much, just spread the word to any kids you see: The new “hip thing” is that fruits are chips.
— Izzy Sabino is a student at Laguna Blanca School.