victory-garden2Obamas to Plant White House Vegetable Garden

Michelle Obama is pulling on her Wellies tomorrow to break soil on the White House vegetable garden. Thank you Mrs. Obama for putting nutritious, fresh, local food in the national spotlight! (And thank you to the Obama’s former personal chef, Sam Kass, now on the White House kitchen staff and an advocate for local and sustainable food).

Now I just need some land to till…and until that happens, I’ll begin with some box planters on the stoop…thinking herbs, tomatoes and strawberries. Here’s a sampling of what will be sprouting in Washington: cilantro, tomatillos, hot peppers; red romaine, green oak leaf, butterhead, red leaf and galactic lettuces; spinach, chard, collards and black kale; berries; herbs including anise hyssop and Thai basil; two beehives for honey.

Before you start planting your garden (or stoop or window box), consider buying seeds from a certified organic seed provider such as Seeds of Change ( By planting heirloom varieties of fruits and vegetables (or purchasing from a farmers market or CSA) you are doing your part to help preserve agricultural diversity. A few stats to consider:

  • Almost 96% of the commercial vegetable varieties available in 1903 are now extinct.
  • Twelve plant crops account for more than 3/4 of the food consumed in the world, and just three–rice, wheat and maize–are relied on for more than half of the world’s food.
  • As crop varieties decrease (reducing the genetic diversity of these plant species), existing crops become increasingly susceptible to devastation by disease and pests.

Now go get your hands dirty.

A cafeteria line at IKEA

A cafeteria line at IKEA: the boy chooses chicken finger, fries AND a side of macaroni and cheese

Oh, school lunch. While I ate (and didn’t eat) my last institutional meal years ago, the image of gluttony and junk is forever grease-blotched in my mind. In high school, lunch for many was pepperoni pizza covered in ranch dressing with a side of gravy-laden french fries, topped off with soda and stacks of par-baked chocolate chip cookies. Back then I had enough sense to avoid the cafeteria fare–albeit for the sake of looking fit in a leotard. But I knew my Mom’s sack lunch was healthier and often shook my head disapprovingly at those boys with the fries. To this day, if I see anyone eat fries by the forkful I am transported back to those lunch tables and visions of oily pubescent faces. Eeew.

Today it makes me cringe that someone thought it was a good idea to serve junk to growing teens. When I see images of that same junk being served to elementary-aged children, it gets me boiling mad. With all of the published nutrition research and public health experts lobbying for policy change, it is ridiculous that our government supports the serving of crap on a styrofoam tray.

I firmly believe that kids will “get” nutrition, for a lifetime,  if we (nutritionists, teachers, parents, taxpayers) get them to know and taste good food. Food introduced to them as a vegetable garden, a mock restaurant, a science experiment, a cultural exchange, a pick-and-chop exercise, a meal with family, and yes, a nutritious homemade lunch at school. Sadly, the message of enjoying food is not  reaching most of our country’s children. Even in schools boasting gardens and farm-to-table curriculum, the cafeteria still serves up packaged, processed foods and USDA commodities (aka big industry left-overs). So how are kids supposed to make the connection between food, enjoyment and health?

This year a new administration will reevaluate the National School Lunch Program. Perhaps I am hopeful that there might be some CHANGE. I want to share the following links sent to me by a prominent nutrition educator in NYC, Fern Gale Estrow. The first is a video about big industry’s influence on deciding what is served to children for lunch. (If you are wondering why kids are still drinking soda with their nuggets and mozzarella sticks, take a look!)

The second link is an article from this week’s NY Times, No Lunch Left Behind, by Alice Waters and Katrina Heron…“The National School Lunch Program, costing around $9 billion a year, has turned out to be a poor investment. It should be redesigned to make our children healthier.”

In the Times article, notice the mention of the Berkeley school district. This public school district yanked chef Anne Cooper from her chef position at an exclusive Hamptons, NY private school to revamp their entire lunch program. Her story is one of success and inspiration and told in more detail in her book, Lunch Lessons, which I highly recommend. Start local, do something!

The Food Lobby Goes to School

No Lunch Left Behind