Quite some time ago, researcher Brian Wansink invited me to periodically stop by the website operated his Food and Brand Lab at Cornell, and I keep forgetting. The upside of my failure is that there’s plenty to peruse, instead of just the one or two conclusions posted since my last visit.
Immediately after I completed my presentation to about 50 students at Middletown High School in Connecticut Tuesday, someone I was working alongside offered, “Tough crowd. It’s hard to get through to teenagers,” and that may sometimes be. But when my wife asked how it went (she called special, in the middle of day; ain’t she sweet?), I said I just didn’t know.
But now I do, thanks to scans of student-feedback forms sent to me by the organizer, and it’s better than my evenhanded skepticism would have surmised.
An interesting contrast that arises from “Fed Up,” the new documentary pitched as the “Inconvenient Truth” for food that had its Boston premiere on Wednesday at the Harvard School of Public Health.
Amy Klobuchar (Minnesota) and Tom Harkin (Iowa) are Senate Democrats from neighboring Farm Belt states. Harkin is accorded sainthood status after decades-long efforts against childhood obesity. Of industry mouthpieces who come before him in committee and swear that, for example, that sugary beverages have no ill effect on children who drink them: “Sometimes I just want to ask: Do you have any shame at all? … How could these people sleep at night, knowing they were lying through their teeth? … How do they live with themselves?”
He also observes, “The Federal Trade Commission has less authority to regulate ads for kids than adults. You’d think it would be the other way around.”
But Klobuchar, who is included in the film’s closing graphics as one of a long list of voices who refused to be interviewed for the film, comes in for — as it seemed to me — a level of opprobrium slightly higher than she deserved, expressly because she was such a disappointment. As in, we expect Big Food to be this way, but you were supposed to be with us, with your female, progressive-leaning self.
As an advocate on issues including obesity, nutrition, and school food, I’ve had an opinion on bake sales, and especially school bake sales, for some time. But until about a week ago, they were something that people did, as opposed to something that people did in my son’s school.
According to research by the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University, the declared politics of school districts is an excellent predictor of their school-nutrition policies. Democrats, which generally believe in the power of government to improve lives, institute policies for better nutrition. And Republicans, who generally believe in the primacy of the marketplace, put fewer strictures on what can be sold to schoolchildren.
if a school district wasn’t using crossing guards and parents learned this, how long would it be before the outcry made sure that crossing guards were on duty?
If noxious chemicals were being left out in the chemistry labs and parents found out, how long would it be before safeguards and monitoring was in place? Would the teacher(s) responsible even keep their jobs?
And yet, when schools serve children meals after meals of crap — pizza, fries every day, ketchup as a vegetable, whatever — the knee-jerk is to blame the schools.
Welcome to another installment of “10 Words or Less,” in which I ask questions, and for answers, of that length. Today’s participant just won the Blue Ribbon Award from the Massachusetts Farm to School Project for her work in the Boston Public Schools. Please remember: No counting! 10 words is a goal, not a rule, and besides, let’s see you do it.
Name Kim Szeto
Born Waltham, Mass., Oct. 27, 1984
Title "Farm to School coordinator, Boston Public Schools"
What you wanted to be when you grew up “It changed a couple of times, but there was a period when I wanted to be a mailman.”
The best part of your job “Seeing kids getting excited about eating a new vegetable.”
Something you’re passionate about “Creating a better food system that nourishes all people, replenishes the land, and pays its workers fairly.”
Do you grow any of your own food? "Yes. My sister and I share a plot in a community garden."
What kind? "Lots of stuff. We had tons of Red Russian kale this year. But my favorite is Dinosaur kale and we only had one this year.”