Towards the end of 2002, my sister sent me the transcript of Dr. Philip Landrigan’s Congressional testimony on Environmental Threats to Children’s Health in America’s Schools. He carefully coupled his assertion that schools should be free from environmental threats like lead, asbestos and pesticides with an assurance that tested measures could be implemented to minimize the risks.
My sister and I went on to study countless articles by Dr. Landrigan on pesticides and children’s health and were inspired to make many of his recommended changes to improve the indoor air quality of our homes. A year or so later when we conceived of a conference on children’s health, I telephoned Dr. Landrigan for his advice. While it seems strangely forward now, his was the only authoritative voice on these issues that I’d yet to hear and I desperately wanted to share his message with my small community. He was incredibly gracious and informative, but what struck me most in the conversation was his cautioning that I not wait for community consensus before doing what I know is right for my children. He observed that sometimes it takes ten years between good science and public policy change, and that I might very well find myself a “mom in between.”
I think of that sometimes – when I can’t believe that I’m still talking about food or that they’re still spraying industrial pesticides on the soccer field – and when I wonder whether any of our efforts have really made a difference. I know that people who attended Let’s Talk Lunch switched to organic milk. I know that members of our Health and Wellness coffees started washing their floors with vinegar. I know that I’ve spread the word about DrGreene.com, Healthy Child, Healthy World, and Lunch Lessons. So maybe we’re not quite to the point of major public policy change, but I feel good that I’ve created at least a few more informed “moms (dads, grandparents and teachers) in between.”
As for my daughters’ school, I think we failed in a pretty significant way. Yes, they added organic milk and produce to the existing menu, but the program lacks the broad vision necessary for the cafeteria to be a classroom, for the food service to be educational. And the vast majority of our local schools are exactly where they were a decade ago – serving kids highly-processed foods laden with salt, fat, preservatives, coloring, refined sugar and refined flour. However, thanks to the sheer tenacity of a few committed individuals, quite a few of the schools have gardens and there are plans for even more. A farm-to-school effort is brewing downstate. And a group of dedicated education advocates and policymakers have joined the school food discussion.
I am encouraged by the coverage of upcoming reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act. I am encouraged by the White House Garden. I am encouraged that Alice Waters and Ann Cooper and Jamie Oliver and Tony Geraci and Alan and Cheryl Greene and Meryl Streep and Christopher Gavigan and Ken Cook and Philip Landrigan and Thianda Manzara continue their important work. Today, as we look at the lessons of the past year and our hopes and goals for the next, I resolve to continue, in my small way, to move our world closer to making fresh, whole, regional, seasonal, and sustainable food available to all children.