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School Districts Need To Be Certain They Are Improving Nutrition … Not Implementing Ideology

In the school district responsible for the education of Mrs. Pundit, there is attention being paid to the school cafeteria:

The battle on the school lunch front is gaining momentum as unsatisfied parents and administrators band together to get processed foods and unhealthy snacks out of their school lunchrooms for good.

A particularly passionate committee of parents in Sea Cliff, New York on Long Island is fighting to revamp their district’s lunch menu, and they are getting results.

There was always a nutrition committee, but it was weak,” says Rieger. Only one or two parents would come to the monthly meeting and offer up ideas on how to improve the school lunch, but they would be shot down and dismissed as too expensive, says Rieger.

The Sea Cliff Parent Community Association (their name for the PTA) decided to put out a sign-up sheet at “Back to School Night” in Sept. 2009 and got 12 parents to form the Sea Cliff School Nutrition Committee. Rieger was asked to be the chair.

It sounds very exciting. Who could possibly be opposed? Yet very quickly the effort seems to lapse from nutrition to ideology:

A diverse group of parents including a pediatrician, a nutritionist, and a yoga instructor makes up the committee.

We long for a cafeteria which serves simple seasonal food, in an environment that fosters community. We want our children to understand the connection between the foods they eat and the farmers that produce the food,” says Luisa Giugliano, a yoga instructor, parent, and committee member.

The yearning for “simple seasonal food” might be strongly held and the desire to “foster community” may be sincere — but both have to do with a vision of society that has precious little to do with getting sustenance into the students and getting them off to math class. Even the educational purpose of teaching young people about farmers and food production is only marginally related to the food in the cafeteria –after all, a farmer grows grapes, whether they come from New York, California or Chile.

All over the country, efforts such as this are gaining momentum. In many cases they pander to a kind of anti-scientific sentiment and achieve things that are meaningless or even teach the children errantly. It happens so frequently, with so much the same effect, that one is reminded of Marx’s critique of Hegel. Hegel taught that history repeats itself; Marx said Hegel forgot to add the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce. Here is what these efforts seem to come to all too often:

One of the committee’s missions is to involve the children and to teach them about wholesome, nutritious food. They held a healthy bake sale with treats containing no refined sugar and organic ingredients. It sold out. The $140 raised will go towards improving nutrition education in the school.

Of course, the evidence that organic ingredients promote human health is scarce indeed, and the evidence that sweetening one’s cake with honey or agave nectar or other “unrefined” sugars will make people live longer or be healthier is virtually non-existent.

There is a lot to educate about here. Jan DeLyser, Vice President of Marketing at California Avocado Commission, teaches a class in marketing communications at Cal Poly — Pomona, and she invited the Pundit to guest lecture on the topic, “How to Arrive at an Informed Opinion.” The lecture was well-received, and it would be very helpful for children to be taught a mode of thinking so when people start pushing ideologies — “seasonal eating” “non-refined sugars” etc. — the children know how to ask pertinent questions.

That is actually a more important thing for a school to teach than propagandizing children with the currently trendy weltanschauung of the intelligentsia.

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