Tom Colicchio: It’s Time to Fix Our School Lunch Problem

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Chef Tom Colicchio talks food polocy at Campos Community Garden in New York City. (Photo: Mark Noble)

On Tuesday, chefs Tom Colicchio and Bill Telepan joined Food Policy Action co-founder Ken Cook at Campos Community Garden, a 5,000-square-foot veggie-strewn enclave in New York City, to explain the state of American food policy.

The garden, which often serves as a classroom for neighborhood children, was a fitting backdrop for the unveiling of the Food Policy Action’s annual report card, a comprehensive grading of Congress’s 535 members on food and farming policy. The results? Disappointing.

“I think overall it’s a little better, but we have a long way to go,” said Colicchio, who is also a Food Policy Action co-founder. Although average scores improved four points compared to last year’s scorecard, the report suggests that so far this year Congress has done little in regard to major food initiatives, including reauthorizing childhood nutrition programming and the overuse of antibiotics in livestock.

Related: Food Day Aims to Bring Healthy, Affordable Food to All Americans

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The entrance to Campos Community Garden. (Photo: Mark Noble)

“Just like report cards in grade school, this year’s progress report should act as a wake up call to many members that they need to get their act together when it comes to their positions on food and farm policy,” Ken Cook echoed in a press release.

So how were members’ scores tabulated? This year’s scorecard was based on how they performed in regard to several votes (five in the Senate and 10 in the House of Representatives) and bills (10 in the Senate and 12 in the House), which touched on topics including animal welfare in agricultural research; genetically engineered food; healthy school meals; food security; childhood hunger; and raising the minimum wage. You can see the full scorecard here.

Although 116 members earned perfect scores — 87 in the House of Representatives and 29 in the Senate — 14 members received 10 or fewer points out of a possible 100.

Related: How Community Gardens Connect Seniors to Fresh Food and Their Pasts

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Tom Colicchio, far left, was joined by chef Bill Telepan (center), and Food Policy Action co-founder Ken Cook (right). (Photo: Mark Noble)

Looking toward the future, Colicchio highlighted a single issue that he thinks Congress should focus on first: school lunch.

“There’s plenty of money in the school lunch budgets for equipment and for training, and I don’t think a lot of districts are actually using it,” Colicchio told Yahoo Food. He added that the timing and length of many schools’ lunch periods is concerning. “A lot of these lunch rooms, they start at 10 o’clock in the morning. [Kids are] not hungry at 10 o’clock in the morning, so they’re not eating,” he said. “Also the amount of time that we give kids to eat, in some cases it’s 10 minutes. By the time they stand in line and get their lunch, there’s no time to eat.” Change is absolutely necessary, he said.

Related: Kinder-Garden: Edible Schoolyard NYC Cultivates Young Minds

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Colicchio stressed the importance of access to high-quality, healthy food for America’s children. (Photo courtesy of BeccaPR)

To those who voted against progressive food measures, Colicchio has one thing to say: “Do it at your own peril.”

“There’s a food movement in this country … and that movement is going to turn political,” he said. “A lot of people right now will go and vote [on] a single issue — maybe it’s second amendment or maybe it’s reproductive rights — and I think we have to raise food to that level.”

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