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Posts Tagged ‘national school lunch program’

The Hunger Games

In Nutrition, Yoga on October 2, 2013 at 12:00 am
beet juice and avos

Veggie juice and avocados

September was Hunger Action Month (as well as World Alzheimer’s Month, Whole Grains Month, National Literacy Month, and National Preparedness Month!). And, yes, that was last month but I’ve finally finished this post and I won’t let the small factor of time affect the publishing.

figs n goat cheese2

Figs and herbed goat cheese

It’s hard to believe that, in an overweight and obese nation, there are those that struggle with hunger; however, 1 in 5 kids live with food insecurity, meaning they are not sure from where their next meal will come. Let us contrast that with the well-known fact that I like to cleanse and restrict the types of food I eat during a particular time period. I’ve also been known to fast (or “play famine victim” as a clever friend of mine prefers to call it) only consuming water over a 48hr time period. This is not some dangerous or irresponsible game I am playing. My choices are backed by the logical (the science of metabolism and nutrition) and the mystical (religious traditions and spiritual paths). I’ve been blessed with the abundance to not have to worry about whether I will have enough food to eat. In fact, I am spoiled in that I can afford to be choosey about what food I consume going to great lengths and costs to acquire exactly the type of food that I deem fit for my body. In theory, I have unlimited access to food. This is an outrageous luxury that I don’t believe I fully appreciate as often as I should.

As I settle into my dietetic internship, which begins in food service systems management, I see a wide gulf between what I consider nutritious and fit for consumption and what is being served in the school cafeterias and eateries. I’m not the first to feel this way and I’m certainly not going to solve the complex conundrum that is the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) during my 13 week rotation. The struggle to reconcile all of the contradictions and figure out where I fit into this mix is occupying way too much mental and emotional space. I want to let it all go. As such I’ve decided to take a different tack and see the issue from the practical, macro-level of scarcity and hunger.

retreat pantry

Retreat Pantry: organic, gluten-free, soy-free, blah, blah

In September, I attended a silent yoga retreat with Swami Ritavan at Questhaven, an esoteric Christian training and retreat center. When asked if I would do the menu planning and food preparation for the 18 participants, I quickly agreed then panicked, fearing I would give everyone food poisoning or have them running off-site to the nearest restaurant. As the menu-planning process began, the food restrictions, intolerances, and dietary requests from the participants started pouring in…gluten-free, vegan, no grains, soy-free, etc. I modified the menu accordingly carefully read labels as I spent many hours and loads of cash purchasing and prepping the organic groceries for the weekend’s meals. It was quite delicious to buy such high quality ingredients and lovingly prepare nourishing meals to support each participants’ spiritual journey inward. It’s also quite freeing to cook for a captive, voice-less audience who can’t complain about the food or make additional special requests!

Anyway, it was a lovely weekend. There was plenty of food and plenty of warm smiles and plenty of full bellies and plenty of nourished souls. On Monday, I quickly changed gears as I jumped into Day 1 of my dietetic internship at a high school district. There was neither a chia seed nor an organic berry to be found. I’ve spent the last month watching (and helping) prepare food – some highly processed and some made-from-scratch – on a much larger scale for growing, learning students. school food showEveryone who works in school food service is striving to do the best they can with the resources they are given. Putting together a balanced meal that kids will actually eat while factoring in labor costs makes ready-made, processed foods very appealing. With some schools having as much as 80% of children qualifying for free or reduced-price lunches, the costs for food, labor, equipment, and benefits must be recovered through the children that can afford to pay full price. This is an important service that schools provide to improve the learning capacity of their students and should not be de-valued. School food vendors are doing their best to provide foods that meet the new guidelines for whole grains and lower fats but still, at the end of the day, it’s mostly highly-processed, pre-cooked, flash-frozen, and very low in nutrients.

During my first week, I attended a school food product show and met up with grad school friends who appear to be thriving in this atmosphere even though I am aware of their personal philosophies regarding food and nutrition. I’m introduced to quite a few people in this type of dietetic work and I’m careful to remain neutral and friendly even though I feel conflicted and confused by the fact that I would rather be teaching yoga or developing a new soup recipe.

labryinthThe next evening I hosted SoupAsana attended by a group of women I met at the silent retreat. One of participants brings her sister who (how amazing is the universe in giving me answers to my questions and doubts??) happens to be married to one of the school nutrition directors I met the previous day. He too struggles with the quality of the school lunches and strives to provide the healthiest meals possible for the children who may only get one decent meal a day.

That’s all I needed. I am exactly where I should be. Doing exactly what I should be doing. On all levels and in all places of my life. No matter that it may seem contradictory from the outside. It’s all falling into place in the cosmic realm. And it will all be OK.

Perhaps Hunger Action Month is a good time to evaluate how much of your resources go towards food, how much volume you eat, where can you increase the quality while decreasing the quantity, and, most importantly, in what ways can you contribute to organizations that support other humans in their struggle with hunger and food insecurity?

Check out these top hunger organizations: Feeding America, UNICEF (my personal favorite), Share Our Strength, World Food Programme, Generations United, and Meals on Wheels. Hunger is a year-round problem so please take action even though it’s now October.

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