My latest read is Micheal Moss’s bestseller, Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us. It’s a shocking tale of the level of deception, food altering and chemical engineering the food industry in North America has invested in causing us (the consumer) to crave salt, sugar and fat. Although I knew that these substances weren’t exactly the best parts of our North American diet, I had no idea the length food companies had gone to, to manufacture substances as addictive as cocaine which have nearly single handily caused the obesity epidemic in 1st world countries.
Why are we offering, selling and promoting these foods to students in our schools? From classroom prizes to cafeteria menus, special lunch days and fundraising campaigns, these substances have a firm hold in our educational institutions. SSF (I’ll use this as a short form for Moss’s work above) notes that the consumer deception about the effects of these substances is so great that food companies have secured the same law firms as tobacco companies, expecting that sooner or later they will face some major law suits. Food for thought, literally…..Would we give out cigarettes to kids as prizes or special treats? Would we ask them to sell cocaine as a school fundraiser?
Make Classroom Prizes Non-Food Items
Before we go any further I have to admit that I’ve absolutely been at fault for distributing candy as prizes. For the past couple years, it’s been my go – to plan to rid our house of Halloween candy. But after reading this book, I vow to never fall into this trap again.
I know this practice also takes place at many other elementary and secondary schools. My own kids often come home with treats as prizes, or talking of having a special day with chips and cookies, etc.
What are we teaching our students about processed foods if we reward them with these ‘treats’? How are we framing their mindset about food? In the future, how will they reward themselves for good deeds, and how will they reward their own children?
Part of the issue here is the challenge of changing the perception of the danger of these substances, as well as education our children about them. Many educators are already on this boat, but the tipping point is yet to come. We need to work together to change both our and our students mindsets about the dangers of processed foods.
Making the change is so easy. I’ve been stocking up on cheap books, school supplies and seasonal novelties for my student prizes for semester 2. With my own kids, I’ve stuck with books and activities as ‘treats’, which actually seems to be working quite well. Kids are malleable – once they’ve adapted to their new reward structure it will become their new normal.
Cafeteria Menus and ‘Special Lunch’ Days
Changing prizes is a pretty easy fix, but cafeteria menus and special lunch days (like pizza day) are a whole other ball game. I’ve learned via years of complaining about the cafeteria options in our school that our school board has a contract with a catering company (who I won’t name but is the same company that serves most educational institutions and nursing homes in Ontario). The options offered to our secondary students are brutal. Breakfast items include egg and sausage sandwiches, muffins, cookies, slushies (sold all day long); lunch is fries, hamburgers, chicken fingers, the occasional $5.00 two bite salad and ‘daily special’ – sometimes a decent soup.
Our staff was so bothered by our cafeteria menu a couple of years ago, my principal brought in a company ‘supervisor’ to a meeting to discuss the situation. During the meeting, the ‘supervisor’ informed me that their options followed the food guidelines for schools (scary) and that they used a variety of sweeteners and other additives (aka chemicals) to balance the sugar/salt/fat amounts to fit in those guidelines. When I questioned why it was so hard to actually offer home cooked, healthy foods I was told that these items ‘didn’t sell’. Case in point. Just like the ‘food industry’, it’s all about the money. I also asked why it was ok to sell 16-year-old kids a cookie and slushie for breakfast and was told that students could make their own decisions, it wasn’t the fault of the cafeteria, and if they didn’t offer these items, the kids would just get them elsewhere. Apparently, this was just what kids ‘wanted’ to eat. But aren’t we the adults? Isn’t it our role to guide our students to make the right choices? Why are we letting a company with a bottom line as their goal dictate what our students should eat?
The parallel to the secondary cafeteria issue is the elementary issue of ‘special lunch’ days that parents can purchase for their kids throughout the school year. I’m a parent at fault here by proxy. Yes, I’m blaming this on my husband. After a year or so of my kids begging for us to buy them one of the regular special lunch days, my husband convinced me to allow them 1 piece of pizza on one (not both) of the pizza days. There is also absolutely a parent peer pressure issue here – as told by my own kids, “everyone else” gets pizza. These offerings are cheap, void of nutrition and full of ……. you guessed it: salt, sugar and fat. From pizza to chocolate milk, cookie days and white pasta with butter – they are far from what we want our kids eating. But why do we allow it? Do our schools really need the fundraising money that badly? Is there not anything else we can do to raise a couple bucks?
Once again, the issue here is ironically education. School boards need to change their mindset towards processed foods laden with salt, sugar and fat; they offer the directives to schools. In my opinion, the science proves that these food additives are akin to tobacco and drugs in terms of their addictive nature and ability to harm the human body. Therefore, they have no place in our school system.
School Fundraising Needs to Change
Every fall my kids bring home fundraising kits for magazines and cookie dough. The same national fundraising company offers these items to schools across Canada. Other kits I’ve seen at my own school include chocolate bars, Little Caesar’s pizza kits and fudge. What happened to oranges and candles? Once again, the money train leads to salt, sugar and fat. Our schools are promoting the sale of dangerous foods and therefore telling our kids that these are ‘good’ to eat and sell.
Similar to classroom prizes, making this change is easy. A simple board policy that states schools will not sell or promote the consumption of processed foods without any nutritional value would easily solve this problem. It’s not like there aren’t any other door to door fundraising options out there. The magazine example is a good one, and I’ve seen many more, including candles, Florida oranges, books, home decorations, etc.
It Starts With YOU
Hey you, reading this article. Are you a parent? A teacher? What do you think about this issue? Do you want it to change? Do you think it’s important to educate our kids about the dangers of these foods? Then step up! Write an email to your school principal, trustee or school board superintendent. Tell them how you feel. Share some quotes from scientific studies or send them a copy of Salt, Sugar and Fat. If we work together to send the message that this ‘norm’ is no longer ok, then it will change. But it’s something, like tobacco consumption, that has a large growth curve. I’m not yet 40, and I can remember teachers smoking in schools during my educational career as a student. Can you imagine if someone did that today? Crazy, right? But not so crazy 30 years ago – relatively a short time period.
The Final Word
Listen, I’m not a food nazi – really, I’m not, but I am probably on the right side of the spectrum. My husband and I cook nearly all our meals from scratch, usually eat out only at restaurants that do the same and try our best to offer our kids nutritional snacks. But hey, we’re human. Holiday and vacation times are periods where we let loose a bit – have ice cream for dinner and bake Christmas cookies. But that’s ok because it’s a rarity. Also, we do our best to educate our kids about food, how to cook and the importance of what happens when we don’t feed our body what it needs nutritionally. We also try to make these ‘treats’ at home so that we can control what’s in them. In my opinion, schools should be doing the same. It’s a shift that’s long overdue.
What do you think about the offering, selling and promotion of processed foods in schools? Comment below!