The Slowcook at Spydog Farm The Slowcook at Spydog Farm

New D.C. Law Would Embrace Healthy, Sustainable School Food

December 10th, 2009 · 1 Comment · Posted in kids, Sustainability, Wellness

D.C. schools to join the good food movement?

D.C. schools to join the good food movement?

Sustainably grown local produce. School gardens. Stricter nutrition standards. Free breakfast. Elimination of sodas, many junk foods and trans-fats. Mandatory physical education. Composting. All these are part of legislation introduced today by D.C. Councilmember Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3) and Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray(D).

I haven’t had a chance to digest everything in this 24-page bill, but it places heavy emphasis on schools making meals “whenever possible” with local products grown without artificial fertilizers, pesticides or non-therapeutic antibiotics or growth hormones. It also would phase out styrofoam trays and non-reclycable eating utensils in favor of “sustainable products.” It bans from schools all sports drinks, sodas, iced teas and “juices” with minimal actual fruit, except when provided free by parents or sold at sporting and other extra-curricular events. More stringent nutrition standards would be phased in over a four-year period.

The law, which would go into effect in August 2010, would require schools to work with other city agencies to establish school gardens–including taking out asphalt when necessary–and work gardening and good nutrition practices into school curricula.

I could quibble with the legislation’s fixation on fat in school meals while still allowing chips, popcorn, doughnuts, cookies and other junk food. School foods would not be permitted to contain more than 35 percent added sugar by weight. I’m not exactly sure if that covers all the candy currently available in school “stores.” It also would allow schools to continue serving chocolate and other flavored milk with added sugar. Otherwise, this bill appears to be a wish list for advocates of local, minimally-processed and sustainably grown farm products, of which I am certainly one, and would bring the District of Columbia into the 21st Century where the good food movement is concerned.

In fact, I can say that I played a small hand in recommending some of the standards for what constitutes “local” and “sustainable,” and I’m glad that Mary Cheh and Vincent Gray have gone out on a limb to press for foods grown without artificial fertilizers, pesticides, growth hormones, antibiotics. The bill would even require the school system to chip in an extra five cents for school meals built around such products, in addition to the federal subsidies received through the the national school lunch plan. The federal government currently provides $2.68 for school lunches that are fully subsidized.

Schools would still be allowed to serve canned fruits and vegetables, but the legislation sets a limit on the amount of sodium those food may contain. School would not be allowed to offer junk foods as incentives or prizes.

The proposed legislation also deals with standards for making schools more environmentally sound, right down to setting a maximum time limit (one minute) that school buses can be left idling.

I can’t wait for the public hearings. Meanwhile, I’ll be mining these pages for more details.

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  • Valerie Stayton

    I personally think it’s a step in the right direction. I am sure it’s not a perfect bill as there are typically something that is a stretch or just won’t work. I, however, am glad to see them going greener. We all need to do our part and I am also glad people are finally realizing that our children’s very health is in danger when our obesity levels are so high. I also think the children will learn something very valuable through this process. I hope it is an idea that spreads.