D.C. Mayor Puts Healthy School Food on the Chopping Block

Reposted with permission

By: Sarah Parsons

At the same time that the federal Child Nutrition Act is poised to become law, one city may axe nutritious lunches in school cafeterias. Washington, D.C.'s Mayor Adrian Fenty recently proposed cutting funds for the city's Healthy Schools Act. The budget cuts will effectively ruin one of the most progressive school lunch programs in America — unless folks speak up now.

Washington, D.C.'s Healthy Schools Act, which was passed earlier this year, created one of the most nutritious, eco-minded school meal programs in the nation. By implementing a six percent sales tax on soda sold within city limits, legislators could provide an additional 10 cents for every meal served in public and charter school cafeterias. Not only would this increase improve access to lunches and meals' nutritional quality, it would implement quite a few sustainable foodie ideals. Farm-to-school programs received a huge push through the plan, with cafeterias required to serve locally grown produce whenever possible and report where ingredients were produced. While the rest of America's students chow down on soggy pizza, D.C.'s kids would get chicken and cheddar on a whole wheat wrap with a fresh, local apple.

The city's high-quality lunches might sink back down to fast food quality if Mayor Fenty gets his way. The mayor recently proposed slashing $5.2 million from the Healthy Schools Act in order to decrease overall spending in the 2011 fiscal year. Councilmembers will vote on the proposed cuts tomorrow, December 7th. If the cuts get the go-ahead, it may be bye-bye local apples and hello packaged fruit cocktail.

While the Child Nutrition Act will improve school lunches throughout the nation, D.C.'s Healthy Schools Act goes much further than the federal legislation, especially when it comes to farm-to-school programs. This local ordinance should be lauded as a model initiative that other cities could follow — not slashed before it really goes into effect.

The cuts haven't been approved yet, so there's still time for sustainable foodies to speak up. The D.C. Farm to School Network, a coalition of advocates working to get healthy food into D.C.'s schools, outlines ways that concerned D.C. citizens can prevent funding decreases. If you're a D.C. resident, you can sign onto the Network's petition urging your Councilmember to vote against Mayor Fenty's proposed budget cuts. You can also phone your Councilmember directly today, Dec. 6th, during the D.C. Farm to School Network's phone-in period (it takes place from 2PM to 4PM EST, and the Network provides a sample message here). Finally, everyone can email D.C.'s Councilmembers directly and encourage them to keep funding in place for the Healthy Schools Act.

As America's childhood obesity epidemic continues to rage out of control, it's important to devote more funding to healthy meals initiatives — not less. For additional information and more ways to get involved, check out the D.C. Farm to School Network's Web page.

Photo credit: Lachlan Hardy via Flickr