The Business of School Food
Updated: Sep 10, 2018
I used to resent the tired trope of an informed or protective mother being called a mama-bear. For one, the desire to protect, nurture, and care for our children is not isolated to the ursidae family. Two, it’s entirely dismissive of a parent’s rightful outrage to liken them to an animal as a way minimize their concern.
In fact, when a mama/papa bear parent shows up at a school, a store, a playground, or a company, everyone there should take notice. Why? Because a parent’s outrage is emblematic of a problem greater than some trivial misunderstanding or misdirected whimsy.
Let’s be honest here, not many of us have the energy to go to battle over small things.
So when that mama/papa-bear appears, it’s not because parents derive joy from causing a ruckus — it’s because the problem we’re confronting is serious, and we’re demanding to be taken seriously.
In my case, the problem that most brings out my claws, fangs, and superhuman strength: Big Food preying on our children— profiting while serving our children too many known disease-causing foods like processed meats (chicken nuggets, hot dogs, pepperoni, sausage patties) and egg products.
Nothing angers me more than food service providers and retailers serving so many foods that both common sense and science show are bad for our children’s health. Perhaps I’m old fashioned — or an overly concerned millennial — either way, I’m pretty sure kids need more vegetables and fruits to thrive.
When I show up at a school and there are more chicken nuggets and tater tots on our children's’ plates than vegetables or fruit? I get angry. When companies say they value nutrition above all else, but their menus are more reflective of a McDonald’s menu than a garden? I get angry. And I’m not usually one to tell other people how to feel, but if I were you, now is the time for you to get angry, too.
The health consequences our children will experience as a result of Big Food companies putting their profits before our health are terrifying. And if someone showed up at your front door threatening the well-being of your child, I’d bet dollars to donuts you’d take immediate action.
Although the threat these companies pose to our families’ health is not as immediate as a knock on your door, the impact of the products they serve are just as dangerous. Unhealthy foods act in slow, insidious, but deadly ways and the results of over-consuming unhealthy foods are showing up earlier and earlier in our children.
Unlike Big Food, I’m playing the long game when it comes to my child’s well-being.
Maybe I’m being irrational (I’m not), but I believe our efforts to protect the health and wellbeing of our children shouldn’t be undermined by some major corporation looking to exploit our children’s appetite for profit. It’s hard to fathom how Big Food companies in schools and other major institutions serving my child, our children,
are comfortable filling their menus with foods full of sodium, cholesterol, and saturated fat. But they are, and they do, and it’s up to us to change it.
There’s nothing major corporations fear more than a coalition of angry parents, so let’s unite and stand up to Big Food on behalf of our children.
For those of us with food-secure households, our food environments (home, school, work, etc..) are often plentiful — albeit too often disproportionately filled with unhealthy foods and too few fruits and vegetables. Still, even if we have the privilege of selecting healthy foods for our families when we’re grocery shopping, all that hard work goes out the window when the school lunch is sausage pizza five days in a row.
For families experiencing food-insecurity, it’s even more critical the food environments that serve children outside the home are in line with the nutrition recommendations of leading public health and health care organizations.
As such, we mama and papa bears should be holding these Big Food companies — food service companies, retailers, and major institutions like our school districts, hospitals, and community centers — more responsible for creating food environments that keep our children safe.
Not just in the short-term. As parents it’s our job to play the long game, and any person or company who serves our families should be as well.
We have the right and responsibility to lead the charge when it comes to transforming the food system affecting our children’s health. So, let’s channel our outrage into action and get to work!