Food and kids

Sam Smith

One reason why I reacted negatively to the Michelle Obama encouraged federal limit on calories for school lunches is because I’ve been dealing with the issue of kids and food a long time, having been on the board of a Maine alternative agriculture center.

We have hundreds of children who come to a rare farm summer day camp and thousands more who visit during the school year. Recently our Teen Ag program was featured in two local papers. The Falmouth Forecaster reported:

Pulling weeds, bucking hay and fighting bugs is not how most high school students want to spend their summer. But four students working at Wolfe’s Neck Farm wouldn’t have wanted to do anything else. By the end of the week, the small crew will have followed as much as 5,000 pounds of produce from seed to table, and donated it to food pantries in Freeport and Brunswick, while learning about all aspects of farming.

At the end of the season, these four teens raised, picked and cooked a dinner for 70 at Freeport Community Services.

Down the coast a bit, the superintendent of a local school district has made a major effort to improve both the quality of, and attitude towards, food by such things as integrating the topic into the curriculum and changing the distributor of the system’s school to one more friendly to organic and natural products.

I’ve never been a fan of puritan liberals, but especially not when the target of their righteous, rigid rules are kids. Because it just doesn’t work well, as the lunch rebellions in many schools have indicated. It’s not hard to get children interested in good things, but if they think it’s just another stupid rule they resist rather than learn.

Besides, as with many of top down programs, they work much better on the evening news than in reality. For example, USA Today reports:

Unfortunately, at the same time brakes are being tapped on caloric intake at lunch, the Obama administration is championing a vast expansion of the school breakfast program. At the same time some kids are getting smaller lunches, others are having multiple breakfasts thanks to another law.

Obviously, there are children who need one breakfast and those who don’t need two breakfasts. But the solution lies in pragmatic local solutions – not preachy and contradictory rulings from Washington.

The way to get kids to eat the right things is to get them informed and interested in the matter. Sadly, in education, enthusiasm and comprehension has given way to rules and test taking, but the former still are the best routes to understanding and useful action.

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