Now Is the Time to Feed Our Children Well


Thomas Schauer

Like many parents after a long family holiday, I usually welcome the moment when my kids head back to school. But this year it has got me thinking about what kind of schools our kids are returning to—and whether or not we are providing them with the best environment to learn. Mostly I am concerned about food, the fuel we give them. As a chef and as a father, I am very upset by what's on the menu at most schools: chicken nuggets and tater tots and ketchup and pizza.

The lunch ladies, the administrators, the people who feed our kids want to do better. But they are limited by one thing: a lack of money. The federal government spends about $2.51 per child per day to feed them lunch. Out of that you have to pay for labor, facilities, and administrative costs, leaving about a dollar for food. Imagine trying to feed yourself a nutritious meal every day with only a dollar. Very difficult. Now imagine trying to do that while satisfying the picky palate of a typical school kid.

Feeding someone is more than giving them a meal. It is a way of saying "you are part of my community", "you are my neighbor", "I see you", "I care." These children need that in their lives.

Right now, we have an opportunity to change that. Every five years, Congress takes another look at the issue when the Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act is voted on, opening the door for discussion about possible improvements to these programs as well as increased funding. Among other things, the CNR provides money for and sets nutritional guidelines school for school lunch programs. Every five years it comes up for renewal. It is the most important piece of legislation that no one has ever heard of.

Through my work with DC Central Kitchen and the Solar for Hope project, I've learned how the power of food transforms lives. I've learned that feeding someone is more than giving them a meal. It is a way of saying "you are part of my community", "you are my neighbor", "I see you", "I care." These children need that in their lives.

As a chef and father, it kills me that children are fed processed foods, fast food clones, foods loaded with preservatives and high-fructose corn syrup. How can it be that our schools are full of soda machines and that many kids go without fresh fruit or vegetables?

I know that some people ask why we need to spend more money on feeding children when we are dealing with an epidemic of childhood obesity. Seems like a contradiction. But I want them to understand that hunger and obesity are the children of the same father. It is hard to eat healthy because it costs more. A gallon of milk is maybe $3.50, nearly $4.00, but a two-liter bottle of soda is only 99 cents.

The most recent CNR is set to expire on September 30, 2010. Before going on break, the Senate passed a bill that calls for a $4.5 billion increase. Sounds great. But almost half of that money comes from cuts to SNAP (the food stamp program). This is not the answer. We can't take food from already struggling families to fund school lunch programs.

Leaders in Congress and the White House were calling for $10 billion over 10 years. The House of Representatives settled on $8 billion—so they are two times as generous as the Senate! But no one who watches Washington politics thinks child nutrition is important enough to invest $800 million a year.

The fact is that we CAN find the money, especially such a small amount—congressional budget outlays are in the billions for many less important programs than those that FEED OUR KIDS—when it is a high priority for our country. And now is the time to make that investment. So when the House comes back to D.C. from summer break, I hope they will have the brains to find the money quickly and pass their bill so we can begin the new school year with a new promise to our kids, based on a REAL investment.

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Internationally recognized as a culinary innovator, José Andrés is a James Beard Award-winning chef and owner of ThinkFoodGroup, which is responsible for Washington, D.C.’s acclaimed restaurants Jaleo, Zaytinya, Oyamel, Café Atlantico, and minibar by josé andrés. More

Internationally recognized as a culinary innovator, José Andrés is a James Beard Award-winning chef and owner of ThinkFoodGroup. TFG is the team responsible for Washington, D.C.’s award-winning restaurants Jaleo, Zaytinya, Oyamel, Café Atlantico, and minibar by josé andrés, as well as Los Angeles’s celebrated destination The Bazaar by José Andrés at the SLS Hotel at Beverly Hills. José also serves as culinary director for the SLS luxury hotel brand, a collaboration with sbe and Philip Starck. He next opens in Las Vegas at The Cosmopolitan with a redesigned Jaleo and a festive Chinese-Mexican spot called China Poblano.

GQ magazine’s 2009 Chef of the Year, José is credited with introducing Americans to both avant-garde and traditional Spanish cooking. At Jaleo, he helped create one of the first critically and commercially successful tapas restaurants in the country. With the opening of his innovative minibar by josé andrés, Food & Wine hailed José as the “hero of the Spanish revolution,” who “helped create the Spanish food boom in America.” And The New York Times called him “the boy wonder of culinary Washington.” The James Beard Foundation recognized him with the award for Best Chef: Mid Atlantic in 2003, inducted him into the Who’s Who of Food & Beverage in America in 2007, and nominated him for Outstanding Chef in 2008, 2009, and 2010 for his work at minibar. His restaurants Zaytinya in Washington, D.C., and The Bazaar by José Andrés in L.A. were nominated for Best New Restaurant. He was recently profiled on 60 Minutes and appears regularly on NBC’s Today show. He’s been profiled in numerous magazines and newspapers, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Bon Appetit, and Saveur.

Often referred to as Spain’s unofficial ambassador to the U.S, José is also host and executive producer of the PBS series Made in Spain. He has authored several cookbooks, including the companion to the PBS series, Made in Spain: Spanish Dishes for the American Kitchen and Tapas: A Taste of Spain in America. José is also a television star in Spain, where his production Vamos a Cocinar on Televisión Española (TVE) was the country’s most popular cooking program, revolutionizing food television in Spain. It now airs across Latin America and in some American markets on the Casa Club cable network.

José is also known for championing the role of chefs in the national discussion on hunger and nutrition issues. Following a recent trip to Haiti, José launched a nonprofit, World Central Kitchen, which aims to feed and empower vulnerable people in humanitarian crises around the world. He is Chairman Emeritus for DC Central Kitchen, an organization that combats hunger and creates opportunities with culinary training. He participates in the First Lady’s “Let’s Move” initiative to fight childhood obesity. He has been tapped by Commerce Secretary Locke to serve on the US Travel and Tourism Advisory Board. This fall, he will be lecturing on culinary physics at Harvard in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. He lives in Maryland with his wife and three daughters.

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