I have a grand opportunity tomorrow. NY Congresswoman Rep. Nita Lowey has invited me to a discussion on childhood obesity with Dr. Thomas Frieden, the Director of the Centers for Disease Control. Dr. Frieden was the NYC Health commissioner from 2002 to 2009. This guy  was the driving force behind some significant health policies in NYC, namely the workplace smoking ban, the trans fat ban and the implementation of  public calorie counts in places like Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts.

I could go on and on about how both the trans fat ban and calorie counts didn’t end up being all that effective in improving the food environments of NYC, but I’m not gonna go there. Dr. Frieden deserves kudos for putting these bold food policies in place and going up against the NRA (National Restaurant Association) and other food industry lobbyists such as the Center for Consumer Freedom.

So far, our approach to the exploding obesity epidemic has done next to nothing to improve eating habits of Americans. Its time to think outside of the box.What would be the right words to say to the head of the CDC that would inspire him to take this approach?

My goal is to share my vision of school food reform with the good doc. School food reform is not about building a better chicken nugget or pumping up the pizza with whole wheat crust and low fat cheese.  Like calorie counts, these strategies do nothing to change the poor eating behaviors of America’s kids.

What we must do is raise the Food IQ and transform the culture of food in each and every school district in the USA. How could the CDC go about doing that?  They would be smart to hire me as a consultant. My four point plan includes proven strategies that will increase veggie consumption and lead to more informed eaters.

  • Vegetable gardens in every school complete with composting projects

When kids grow food, picky eating behavior decreases and respect for real food increases. Composting of vegetable scraps is a great science project that reduces waste disposal costs, improves the environment and provides a nutrient rich soil amendment for those gardens.

  • Food based film series open to the entire community

There are many excellent movies that can help to build Food IQ in an entertaining and informative way. These films will get people talking about the many food based issues that we are facing.

  • Cooking classes

Research from Harvard shows that those who cook food tend to be more healthier than those who don’t. This trend crosses all socioeconomic lines. We’ve got to get our kids off the couch and into the kitchen! Require them to be able to prepare 10 meals from scratch as a requirement for graduation.

  • Integration of food based education into core curriculum

Food can be seamlessly integrated into history/social studies, science, math and english. Learning about misleading food labeling claims which could easily become part of a unit on critical thinking skills- something all kids and grown ups could use more of.

One way to get this good stuff going into schools across the country would be the Food Corps, think Peace Corps but with food. FoodCorps members will build Farm to School supply chains, expand food system and nutrition education programs, and build and tend school food gardens.

The CDC can also look to the 200+ Slow Food chapters  across the country who are involved with Slow Food in Schools projects. This nationwide network of community based food education projects range from school gardens to cooking classes, to farm to school initiatives.  With CDC support, both the Food Corps and Slow Food in Schools can be the paradigm shift that turns this health crisis around better than any new, improved chicken nugget ever could!

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