A Farmer Navigates Heated Moms’ Meetings About School LunchesPosted December 6th, 2012 by Arwen Donahue
But we’re far from that where I live, in rural central Kentucky. My husband, David, raised a vegetable garden for a few years at my daughter Phoebe’s elementary school. He tried to get teachers interested in working it into their curricula, in seeing the importance of showing kids where their food comes from. Eventually, he hoped, the food grown on our school grounds would make its way onto kids’ lunch plates. Yet while the teachers showed polite interest in the garden, none put in the effort to keep it alive. Despite the kids’ enthusiasm, it was too much work for David to do alone, in addition to the work we do at the farm, and he let it go.
Now, I’m a new member on the Site-Based Decision Making Council at Phoebe’s school. Conversation at one meeting, a couple of weeks before the presidential elections, turned to the subject of school lunch reform. Our income is low enough to qualify her for free lunch, but Phoebe has always brought lunch from home—her own choice.
So that day I asked a lot of questions to educate myself on the subject, and was surprised at how passionately angry the moms around the table were at Michelle Obama and her project to improve school lunches. “I hate her,” one of the moms said. I was shocked, but tried to understand her point of view. This woman comes to every meeting, armed with good and practical suggestions for improving kids’ education and access to resources. I admired her before she used the H-word for Michelle. Now, I respect her from a cool distance.
The moms around the table at the council meeting show just how gut-level emotional the school lunch issue is. Some of these moms are teachers at the school; others are concerned parents. From a strictly rational point of view, I might have thought that more of these women would have been happy that their kids were being offered healthier options, considering that so many of our kids are overweight and at risk of disease in the long term.
But in a region where poverty and drug use are rampant, many parents view obesity as a relatively benign problem: ‘Of course, our kids love fat and sugar. So do we. And if we can feed them things they like, we have a better chance of keeping them out of trouble.’ Since many parents are overweight, too, some take the school lunch overhaul as a government-sponsored attack on their own bodies, and on their own ability to parent. “Is Mrs. Romney another one of them bony women?” one of the teachers joked. “Because if she’s got some meat on her, that might affect how I vote.”
The women around the table that day (there was only one man at the meeting, the school’s principal, who prudently kept quiet on the subject) are smart and funny, and they care deeply about our kids. They’re sensible and reasonable about most things—but not, it seems to me, about food. When a community is suffering, a stable, healthy, local food culture should be one of the first things we address to heal it—not one of the last.
This post is part of the MomsRising Healthy Holiday Food Blog Carnival.