Mandated Waste: Simple Questions about School Lunch Reform

September 16th, 2009
Chef Ann Smiles as she puts on her Whole Foods Chefs Jacket and Prepares to Talk about School Lunch.

Chef Ann Smiles as she puts on her Whole Foods Chefs Jacket and Prepares to Talk about School Lunch.

Last Thursday evening I was thrilled to hear Chef Ann Cooper, aka “The Renegade Lunch Lady” speak at my local YMCA. Of course Chef Ann didn’t travel all the way from Boulder, Colorado, where she’s recently begun a new job in the school system, to speak to the Bethesda Y. She was here to meet with federal policy makers about reform efforts for the USDA’s school lunch program.  Together with Whole Foods, which is supporting her work, Chef Ann is urging the government to allocate $1 more per day for each child’s school lunch.  But as The New York  Times reported here,  some Congressional Democrats think just 70  cents more would be a generous increase – and well, I’m sure you know that others think no additional funds are necessary.

I’ve blogged many times over the past year and a half about issues with the school lunch program.  From this first post expressing shock at elementary school lunch entrée choices of  pizza or hot dog,  to this post about how the School Lunch Controversy Ended Up on TV , to this one about How to Get Organics and Healthier Foods Into the Schools, to attending local and regional PTA meetings with our school district’s head of nutrition services, I’ve been asking questions….and not getting much in the way of answers.

Chef Ann Cooper talks about the school lunch program at the Bethesda, Maryland YMCA. September 10, 2009

Chef Ann Cooper talks about the school lunch program at the Bethesda, Maryland YMCA. September 10, 2009

But this time I got very direct answers to my questions. Chef Ann is blunt. She calls things the way she sees them.  So after asking the first question in at the Q&A session after her talk, I waited until everyone else had a chance and then asked…four more questions! I could have spent all night talking to her, quite honestly.   I’ve got fodder for at least one more post about Chef Ann, but in this one, which is timed to coincide with the Green Moms Carnival on “Conserving Resources,” I want to focus on waste.

Although I agree with Chef Ann and would  like to see more funds allocated to school lunch (and in fact, just this week $50 million more was allocated to the new Farm-to-School program),  there is a tremendous amount of waste in the system.  So that was my first question for Chef Ann. Were government officials talking about reducing waste in the school lunch program?  Apparently not.

I explained how I had finally allowed my 2nd grader to purchase pizza once a week for school lunch. But, I told him, he was to skip the non-organic, hormone-laden milk and the non-organic apple, since he had water and fruit in his lunch bag.  My son told me that he was forced to buy the apple and the milk as well – and then to throw them out. Not only is this wasteful, but when you consider that the milk and apple are taxpayer subsidized, it is doubly wasteful. Why can’t we let kids purchase just what they need to? Why are we subsidizing food items that end up in the trash? And then spending more taxpayer money to pay the school custodians to handle the trash, and to pay for the operation of  the municipal landfills and transport to the landfills and recycling centers? (Not the mention all the carbon we’re burning through each of these wasteful activities).

If you think you could return the unopened milk to the cafeteria, for re-use, you’d be wrong. I’ve volunteered many times in my son’s cafeteria, where I’ve been asked to open unopened milk bottles and POUR THE MILK  DOWN THE DRAIN. Talk about waste.

And Chef Ann? She said that in the school lunch programs she’s run in Berkeley, California and Boulder, Colorado, the children take as much (organic) milk as they’d like from a large jug. No waste, no fuss.  What a concept.

In addition to lobbying for more funds for school lunch – and the schools as a whole – we need to focus on conserving resources and reducing waste, as Chef Ann has done in her school systems.

Are you seeing these same issues in your local schools? Leave a comment and share!

And more on the talk by the wonderful Chef Ann in a future post!

Check out the rest of the Green Moms Carnival Submissions here at The Mindful Momma!  (And for a few more great posts on school lunch, check out last month’s  Green Moms Carnival on Back to School,

— Lynn

Copyright 2009 OrganicMania

13 Responses to “Mandated Waste: Simple Questions about School Lunch Reform”

  1. Green Bean on September 16, 2009 4:39 pm

    What a concept indeed! It is so great to see change happening in this arena though – slow as the change may be.
    .-= Green Bean´s last blog ..A Strong Community Equals A Happy Planet =-.

  2. JessTrev on September 16, 2009 6:29 pm

    I’m so jealous – my cousin lives in Boulder so she never packs lunch anymore! Also jealous that you got to hear Ann Cooper; I almost went but no child care…. Hardcore on the no milk or apple for your kid. Rock on, Lynn! But what about the hormone-laden cheese on that pizza, huh?! I just turn a blind eye every now and then and let my kid get the beloved Hot Lunch, scary as it may be. You will laugh – the first time I did this my child’s Pre-K teacher *called home* to ask if it was ok if my DC drank non-organic milk (“I don’t think I’ve ever had it before…” said my darling)! Love the pitchers of milk idea….
    .-= JessTrev´s last blog ..A Strong Community Equals A Happy Planet =-.

  3. mother earth aka karen hanrahan on September 16, 2009 6:53 pm

    at my daughters college they are introducing one meal a week as organic…while this is “trendy” I find the logic rather baffling. Why once a week, why not daily? The department head said because it’s costly. He also sputtered about some sortof liability. I am very pro-organic, but a strong part of me would rather see veggie centric meals, a focus on raw eating – organic or otherwise and skip the token fries, pizza and sweets that are available at all times

    when they were little I fought the mandatory milk program and won – i had allergic and mucous producing kids — they drank water – imagine that !!
    .-= mother earth aka karen hanrahan´s last blog ..Conserving Energy. Mine =-.

  4. Beth Terry, aka Fake Plastic Fish on September 16, 2009 10:35 pm

    This stuff never ceases to amaze me. Why do they pour out the milk? What is the reason?
    .-= Beth Terry, aka Fake Plastic Fish´s last blog ..Year 3, Month 3 Results: 8.6 oz of plastic waste =-.

  5. Diane MacEachern on September 17, 2009 12:00 pm

    I’m inspired by the kids at my local middle school (Takoma Park Middle). They’re fed up with all the throwaway plates and trays they get at lunch, so they’re raising money to buy durable trays and place settings. There are over 1,000 kids at the school; they’ll set a great example when they succeed, which I’m sure they will!
    .-= Diane MacEachern´s last blog ..Tampons- The Planet’s Most Extreme Case of PMS =-.

  6. mcmilker on September 21, 2009 6:05 am

    Chef Ann sounds awesome. I’d love to hear her speak.

    I fear, the fear over swine flu is just going to make things worse as parents/schools will want every food item individually packaged and hermetically sealed in 3 layers.

  7. Lisa on September 21, 2009 8:43 pm

    I hope schools will start to think more about the health of our planet and the kids!

    All these articles are kind of shocking to me because I was homeschooled 4th grade and on and when I was in public school I always packed a lunch.
    .-= Lisa´s last blog ..Decorate For Fall: Eco Style =-.

  8. Laura on May 20, 2010 10:51 pm

    This battle with waste is killing me! I work at an elementary school. This year they started the recycling barrels. Awesome! I thought. Then I observed the kids being instructed to open their milk and pour it out if they didn’t want it .. then of course put the bottle in the recycle bin! What kind of double standard is that?! Then I watched unopened cereal, yogurt, cheesesticks, bananas, apples,kiwi’s, etc. being trashed and UNOPENED! I began instructing the kids to put it on the ends of the tables if they didn’t want it. One day I brought a new 30 gallon trash fillled, to the brim with milk, cereal and yogurt; that the kids has put on the “share table”, to a local homeless shelter! That was only breakfast! Well now I’m being told that we can’t do that anymore. We have to tell the kids to throw it away. I said “no. You want it thrown away, you’ll have to do it.” They won’t. Their just paying the custodians to do it. One of my students said ” Are their no more poor people?” I said ” what do you mean?” He said” Well, the janitor guy is throwing away the share table food. And at Christmas we all brought stuff like mac-a-cheese. But now he’s throwing away stuff. Does that mean there no more poor people?” It takes a 5 yr. old to clearly see the double standard we are setting for our children. How do we expect them to trust us on the big issues in their life when they can’t trust us to tell the truth about what is waste and what is not?
    I don’t know what to do at this point. But tax payer money is being sent to landfills, and people are still hungry in local communities.. and now I feel like my hands have been tied.

  9. Lynn on May 21, 2010 7:54 am

    Laura, I’m curious to know if you’re in MoCo like me…and what excuse the school system is giving. I was told that we can’t give away food because of “health reasons.” Does it take a TV show like Jamie Oliver’s to wake people up? I think so, unfortunately. It seems like common sense has gone out the window. I’ll email you soon…I’d like to continue the discussion…maybe there’s something we could do together. Hang in there!

  10. Organic and Green Mom Blog | Green Moms & Public Schools: Top 10 Green School Projects – Pick One! at Organic Mania on August 30, 2010 8:49 pm

    […] Why Throw Out Unopened Milk? Forced Dumping of Unopened School Milk Bottles in the Garbage […]

  11. Megan on October 21, 2010 10:09 pm

    At our school, in Long Beach, Ca, we worked with the head of food services of our district. We were able to collect the unopened drinks, yogurt, fruit cups and fresh fruit at lunch time. We collect it an ice chest and donate it to a local food pantry. We had to take a food handling training and it has to be delivered to the refrigerator of the food pantry within 4 hours. Persistence and compromise made it work out in the end. We talk up to 50lbs per day.

  12. Lynn on October 22, 2010 2:11 pm

    What a fabulous story, Megan! Thank you so much for sharing! Would make sense to replicate this.

  13. christie on November 26, 2010 3:09 pm

    I just recently learned of the students being required to throw away unopened food items such as milk from the school cafeterias. I would like to do a little more research on this if someone could tell me who exactly came up with this requirement.

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