KGNU News Director Maeve Conran talks with Robyn Obrien and the Renegade Lunch Lady, Chef Ann Cooper. Robyn OBrien is the author of: The Unhealthy Truth: One Mother’s Shocking Investigation into the Dangers of America’s Food Supply– and What Every Family Can Do to Protect Itself. Chef Ann Cooper directs Boulder Valley Schools Food Services. She encourages communities with words like these: “I challenge you to do just one thing to make a difference in your own schools –eat lunch in a local school and see what you think, then inquire about the wellness policy in the local school district, volunteer in the kitchen, form a local task force, meet with school board members, plant a garden or at least the idea for a garden at a local school. One thing – Go for it and keep us posted of your progress on the Community Page at www.thelunchbox.org. Together, we’ll transform local changes into a stronger and healthier community for all children in every school. Let the Lunch Lessons Revolution begin!”
Maeve Conran: This is community radio KGNU. We continue next with our nutrition programming. If you ve been tuning in all week on the Morning Magazine, you will have heard our reporters from fifth graders at Ashley Elementary School in Denver who have been reporting on the challenges facing them around healthy eating. It s part of our Eat Your Radio series. Please do check out at website: eatyourradio.kgnu.org. It s been recognized by the Colorado Broadcasters Association for its work around the area of nutrition radio journalism. Well, we continue that discussion this morning, and my guest in the studio is Robyn Obrien. Robyn is a food activist, a public speaker on the issue of nutrition and author of The Unhealthy Truth: How Our Food Is Making Us Sick and What We Can Do About It. But ultimately, Robyn is a mom, and that really got her into this area of food activism. Joining us hopefully a little bit later on will be Chef Ann Cooper. She s also known as the Renegade Lunch Lady. She s currently working in Boulder Valley schools to transform school lunches. We ll be opening up the phone lines a little bit later on. Robyn, thank you so much for coming in today. I know you ve been on KGNU before.
Robin Obrien: Thank you for having me back.
Maeve: It is great to have you, and as I said, this issue of nutrition, it s topical because it s in the news everywhere. We re seeing commercial television, celebrity chefs like Jamie Oliver coming over to start the food revolution, we re seeing the FDA eliminating the food pyramid just last week and coming up with the new My Plate. We ll talk about that in just a moment. This issue of food nutrition just seems to be everywhere. And yet at the same time the statistics are still staggering around childhood obesity, adults obesity, childhood diabetes even though we re talking about it, nothing seems to be changing.
Robin: You know the statistics are absolutely jaw-dropping, and when you look at nutrition, you also are recognizing that one in three children now are struggling, they re overweight or obese, but at the same time one in four children are malnourished and not getting the food they need. So what it speaks to is that we re lack nutrients at all levels, at all ends of the spectrum, whether they re on the obesity end or the malnourishment end. Children are not getting the nutrition that they need and the nutrient that they need. 0:02:26.4 What we re realizing is that as we shifted to this processed food diet, those foods are pretty void of nutrients, and what we re trying to get back to now is a nutrient-dense diet, so that the calories that we do consume, we really make them count so you get the most bang for your buck. I think as increasing scientific evidence mounts about the role that diet and nutrition does play in conditions like obesity, diabetes, cancer, according to the American Cancer Society, cancer is the leading cause of death by disease in children under the age of 15, and yet it can be largely prevented due to diet, nutrition, and exercise alone. And as we begin to really acknowledge that and really address these changes, as jaw-dropping as these statistics are, with the record number of children that we re seeing with these conditions, which sadly has earned them the nickname Generation Rx, as we do learn this information, we realize that there is so much that we can do to protect the health of our families.
Maeve: We re going to touch on all of these issues, but I d like to just get back to that issue of weight, because there s so much focus on overweight kids, obese kids. And yet, as you very accurately mentioned, it s not necessarily a weight thing, because you could have a thin child, but they could be completely nutritionally deficient.
Robin: You know, I think up to this point, we ve all been sort of taught calories-in-calories-out. If we consume, expend the energy. But what we re realizing is that not all calories are created equal. Some calories are full of vitamins and minerals and some are absolutely empty and just full of sugar and empty calories. The calories that you do choose to put into a child, or into yourself for that matter, to focus on nutrient-dense foods rather than these nutrient-void will go so far in helping protect the health of your family. 0:04:14.4
Maeve: I m going to talk about how you personally got involved in this particular issue. But just to look at the overall political situation here in the U.S., it seems like something everyone should be able to get behind and leave at the door any kind of partisan politics, childhood nutrition and what s best for kids. And yet that doesn t seem to be the case. What are your thoughts on why we cannot get policy in place here to have better foods out there in schools for kids around advertising of sugary foods and fast foods to kids, around labeling issues of foods to kids. Why has it been politicized to the degree that it has been?
Robin: You know, that s a great question. Food is such an intimate issue. It s very personal, it s cultural, it speaks to our family values, it speaks to how we were raised. And so whenever someone presents their ideas, it can challenge more than the way you shop in a grocery store. In some cases it can really challenge your core belief system. So there s a real sensitivity, I think, that needs to be in place when you re discussing this. And as we learn this information, as we learn about the increasing number of additives in the U.S. food supply, as we learn how our corporations are formulating their products differently for eaters in other countries so that they don t contain some of these harmful additives, that s tough information to learn sometimes. So to deliver that information with compassion and understanding I think helps disarm people and make them a little bit more receptive to hearing the message. But you re right. It has become and incredibly political issue. But at the end of the day, the bottom line is that while the children are only 30% of our population, they represent 100% of our future. And since they have earned that nickname Generation Rx, what we re seeing are increasing healthcare costs associated with managing those diseases. My background prior to motherhood, I was an analyst. I covered the food industry and some other industries, and as I started to look into that data, what I realized is that the U.S. spends less than almost every other country on food. We spend about $.09 of every dollar on food. Yet at the same time we spend more than almost every other country managing disease and spend $.16 of every dollar on healthcare. 0:06:30.6 So what s happening is that because we re spending increasing amounts of our money on healthcare, we re doing that at the family level, we re having to manage these diseases, buy these prescription drugs, spend the time in the doctor s office, but it s also happening at the corporate level. You ve got corporations like Starbuck s who, it was recently reported in the New York Times, they re spending more on healthcare costs than they are on coffee. And this is where I think if we can really look at this together as Americans, as a national family, sitting down to our national dinner table, what we can see is that our global competitiveness might well be at stake because we re so busy now managing these diseases that our corporations can t drive their profitability towards their core competencies. It s really going to become this weight, weighing us down in the global marketplace. For me, I think one of the most patriotic things that we could be doing as Americans, all of us, regardless of where your political aims might be, is to really begin to protect the health of our families, because ultimately that s protecting the health of our corporations and the health of our economy.
Maeve: A lot to talk about, Robyn. We re going to be opening up the phone lines in a little bit. But I would like to get back to, as I said at the beginning, why you started in this area. You were a concerned mom, and you were concerned about what you were feeding your kids. Bring us back to the start of how you got involved in food activism.
Robin: It s funny, because I don t think of it as activism. I think of it just simply as something that was so inspired by the love that I have for my children, as any mother would be. Five years ago my youngest child had an allergic reaction to breakfast one morning. And up until that point, I really hadn t given a whole lot of thought about these epidemics that we were seeing in children. Thankfully, they hadn t affected us yet. And yet at the same time, that morning, as she had this food allergic reaction, I didn t know anybody with food allergies when I was a child, and back 20, 30 years ago, a PB&J and a carton of milk weren t loaded weapons on a lunchroom table the way they are today. 0:08:22.7
Maeve: What reaction did she have? What actually happened?
Robin: Her face started to swell shut. And again, I was so completely clueless as to what a food allergy actually looked like that I thought the older three had maybe put something in her face. So as I took care of her, we took her to the pediatrician s office, we got her calmed down, I wanted to dig into the data. It was the analyst in me. And as I started looking at the statistics, it was just jaw-dropping to see the increases that we re seeing in the number of children with food allergies. The CDC had reported a 265% increase in the rate of hospitalizations related to food allergic reaction, so that was doctors checking people into ER. And with that, I thought, what s changed? Why are children so allergic to food? Is there something foreign in the food that wasn t there when we were kids that they re reacting to? And as I dug into that data, that s when I realized that yes, we really have in the last 20 years manipulated our food supply to drive profitability for the agricultural industry or for the food industry. To the analyst in me, that made perfect sense, but at the same time, to see how those costs have been externalized, to see how those liabilities have been externalized, not only onto the consumer, but also onto the farmer, it begs the question, now that we know this, 20 years in, shouldn t we be reassessing? Let s get these costs accounted for in the system so that ultimately consumers and corporations and our economy aren t bearing these costs.
Maeve: I suppose it begs the question that, did your daughter and all of these children, are they having a food allergy, is it a reaction to the food, or is it a reaction to what has now become a food-like substance, to paraphrase Michael Pollan? Because this isn t ultimately if you look at the back of any processed food, there are things on there that aren t foods. On the label, there are items on there that cannot be classified as food.
Robin: Absolutely, and the children are reacting at all different levels. A lot of the doctors are saying they re canaries in the coal mine. They re warning us of the dangers in these foods. When you start manipulating food at the DNA level, which is what we started to do in the 1990s, and you re introducing all kinds of agrochemical ingredients, and again, it makes sense, it s driving profitability, you ve got insecticidal proteins, you re able to engineer a soybean to withstand increasing doses of weed killers, as an analyst, that makes perfect sense, but you re absolutely right. No studies were ever conducted to see how a child might react to I mean, I wouldn t even call them food-like proteins. Those are chemical proteins, and no studies were ever conducted. For that reason, governments around the world said, We don t know if this is safe, so we re either not going to allow these into our food supply, or we re going to insist on labeling so that consumers can make an informed matches. 0:11:07.8 Here in the U.S. we took a different approach. We just said, It s never been proven dangerous. No need to label. And these things were introduced into the food supply in the 1990s.
Maeve: Kind of like innocent until proven guilty, rather than taking the preemptive approach that the rest of the world has. Expand a little bit further on that. What is maybe happening in Europe and other countries with regard to what is allowed in the food chain on what s not happening here in the U.S.?
Robin: I think the perfect example is this new technology that was introduced in the 1990s by the biotech industry where they were able to genetically manipulate the DNA of certain food proteins, and again, it made sense, it drove profitability. It was first done with milk supply. There was an artificial growth hormone that was injected into dairy cows to help them make more milk, and I mean, who can get in front of that? That makes perfect sense. But what happened is that it was making those cows sick, it was causing mastitis and ovarian cysts and lameness and all kinds of skin disorders. So for that reason, it required an increased antibiotic use in the animals. So for that reason alone, governments around the world, all 27 countries in Europe, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, they said, We don t want that in our food supply, because it s making the cows sick and it s causing this increased antibiotic use. And then as studies started to come out, it also showed that that same growth hormone elevated hormone levels that were linked to breast, prostate, and colon cancer. So again these countries said, This has not yet been proven safe, we re going to keep it out of our food supply. But back here in the U.S., in 1994 we introduced it. So as I learned that information, I thought, as a kid with a milk allergy, like you were saying earlier, is he allergic to milk that we all grew up drinking, or is he allergic to this synthetic growth hormone that has now found its way into our dairy? When I went to leading allergists in our country, they said, We don t know. There are no tests. So essentially, that test, that trial is being run on the American population. 0:13:00.4
Maeve: Why have the American government officials here allowed that to happen, to essentially experiment on children?
Robin: Well, you know, I mean, as I address that question, and again, it s where you realize that you re having to learn some things that you really may not want to know. As I was beginning to navigate the grocery store differently, I was also reassessing an entire belief system. So as I went back to the FDA and thought, How was this approved here in the U.S. when all these other countries around the world rejected it? I learned that because of the way our federal budget is structured, the FDA doesn t have enough money to conduct independent research. So therefore they rely on industry to conduct the safety studies of their own products. For example, with this growth hormone, interestingly, what happened was, the woman who wrote the report for that product then resigned from the company and went into the FDA and approved her own report. So again, we know that the country, the lobbying that s in place in this country, do we really want to know that this is what s happened with the food supply? It s tough information to learn, but I think once you learn it, then you re better able to make an informed choice when it comes to feeding your families.
Maeve: It seems to be very tough information to digest, sorry to use the food analogy there, particularly as a parent. Maybe as a mother, when giving food to your child is the most basic thing you can do to nurture them, and then when you find out that what you re feeding the child is actually making them sick, that creates a major paradigm shift, a whole internal conflict as a mother, I m sure, because that sounds like what you went through.
Robin: Absolutely. I was not a foodie. I didn t know how to cook. I was nuking nuggets and serving tubes of blue yogurt. So to learn that caused enormous heartache and grief, and I think as you come through that sadness, you really what inspires you through all of that is the love you have for your children. And that s an incredibly positive emotion, and that can fuel remarkable change. And I think the disadvantage that mothers here in the U.S. have is that we simply weren t told. We weren t told of the risks that these products might represent. We weren t told that they were never approved for use in other countries. We weren t told that our American corporations are formulating their products differently for eaters in other countries. So my goal was to just simply provide that information to mothers in the U.S. so that we can make an informed choice when it comes to protecting our kids. 0:15:36.4
Maeve: We ll talk a little bit further in just a moment about, is that enough, if we have that information? Does that ultimately lead the way to help your heating in terms of, maybe there are even more barriers, like food labeling and what we think is a good thing might not be a good thing. We ll continue that discussion with Robyn Obrien, but I would like to remind our listeners that this is community radio KGNU. I m Maeve Conran, and we ve been hearing from Robyn Obrien, who speaks a lot nationally on the issue of nutrition. She s the author of The Unhealthy Truth: How Our Food Is Making Us Sick and What We Can Do About It. That I think is the key. We re going to get to that is just a moment, what we can do about it, how we can be empowered. It s part of our ongoing nutrition programming here on KGNU. All this week we ve been hearing reports from fifth graders at Ashley Elementary in Denver, part of our Eat Your Radio series. I d like to welcome my next guest. Chef Ann Cooper is joining us in the studio. Many people know her as the Renegade Lunch Lady, and she s bringing her renegadeness to the Boulder Valley school district [laughter] and transforming how kids in Boulder Valley are eating. Good morning, Ann.
Ann Cooper: Good morning.
Maeve: It s great to have you with us. We ve just been hearing from Robyn the scary analysis of the food system here in the U.S., particularly around processed foods. If you look at the back of any processed food item, there are so many ingredients on there that really cannot be labeled as food, can t be thought of as food. I know your mission is to bring fresh food into schools. Tell us a little bit about some of the barriers that you ve come upon when you ve tried to bring this it seems like a basic idea, Let s get fresh food into the school cafeterias, but it s not as easy as that.
Ann: It would seem easy, and it s just really a challenge. There s five big challenges that everybody faces: food, finance, facilities, human resources, and marketing. Food. Where are you going to get it and make sure it s good? Finances. How do we pay for it? Facilities. What do we do when we don t have kitchens? Human resources. How do we train or return hundreds of people to actually find their kitchens and not nuke nuggets? And finally, how do we get the kids to eat it? Because big business spends $17 billion to $20 billion a year marketing non-nutrient foods to kids. We have a generation of children now who thinks chicken nuggets is a food group and hot Cheetos is breakfast. There s just every single place you turn, there are challenges to overcome.
Maeve: So how have you managed to overcome them? I know you started out in California, you re bringing it now to Colorado, and we re very grateful for that. How did you get past some of those things? When you re talking to a school district that, as we re hearing all the time, are more and more strapped for cash, looking at the bottom line on a budget, how do you say, You know what? Let s get healthy food in, even though it s a bit more expensive?
Ann: I don t actually go looking for districts. I want to work with districts that are really looking to change. In the case of both Berkeley and Boulder, they really were ready. They bought had strong community groups, they had support from the school board, from the superintendent. Those kinds of things are really, really important. But I wouldn t say past tense. These are ongoing solutions, and it s just a lot of baby steps, one step after another after another. You just have to keep moving forward with these changes. It s really an evolution of one thing leads to another. What we re really trying to do is just feed kids fresh fruit, fresh vegetables, whole grains, and healthy proteins, and real food, not chemicals. We have no high-fructose corn syrups, we have no trans fats, no colors, no dyes. Salad bars in every school, organic milk at lunch, really making progress, but it s hard getting the kids to eat it. 0:19:18.3
Maeve: Let s talk about that. How do you get the kids to eat it? Is it because these kids who are coming from families that they re not getting this foods at home, or is it as simple as saying, they just don t like it?
Ann: Bolder Valley is a big school district. It s spread over 550 square miles, so what may be a challenge in Boulder proper may be a different challenge in east county. I think there s a lot of different things. We now have what s considered children s food. Two generations ago, there wasn t children s food. We had food. The kids might have eaten it a little bit different texturally, or a little bit different spiced flavor-wise, but it was just food. Now kids have their own food, and that s the food they are being mass-marketed to believe that chicken nuggets is a food group. We ve also got the kids ingrained to high-fat, high-salt, high-sugar food, and that s sort of their palate now. So when I wanted to wean them off french fries and feed them fresh broccoli, all of a sudden that s just not that easy. In some cases they are getting it at home, but a lot of cases they re just not. And with the parents, parents might not always want to change. As you heard from Robyn, parents want to feel like what they re feeding their kids is good, so if this is the food you ve been feeding your kids, and then I come in and go, You shouldn t be feeding your kids that, then somehow I become the enemy.
Maeve: That is Chef Ann Cooper. She s one of my guests this morning, along with Robyn Obrien, author of the book The Unhealthy Truth: How Our Food Is Making Us Sick and What We Can Do About It. You re listening to community radio KGNU Boulder-Denver as we continue our look at nutrition issues this morning. We re going to be opening up the phone lines. It s just a couple of minutes to 9 o clock. If you d like to weigh in on this conversation, the number is 303-442-4242. A lot of people refer to the Boulder bubble, that we re in Boulder, obviously we re broadcasting way outside Boulder Valley, but people say, In Boulder we ve got the farmers market, it s a beautiful farmers market, there s one in Longmont, there are some in other parts of Boulder County, there s so many organic food stores you can go into. This is a very different reality from maybe the rest of the country, but even other parts of Colorado. Robyn, you are a native of Texas. Can you talk about the reality of access to fresh foods, access to this kind of information? It s might seem like we re preaching to the choir, to a lot of our listeners it might seem obvious, but to a lot of people in the country, this is new information.
Robin: What s universal is the concern that people have for the health of their families. One out of two men and one out of three women are expected to get cancer in their lifetime. The rates of disease in this country are across all socio-economic divides. What s happening is that people are coming to this information because with a kid that s on ADHD meds, asthma meds, allergy meds, and maybe there s diabetes meds, too, all of a sudden parents are stopping and saying, There s got to be a better way to manage this disease. And so when you re talking about the fact that the military, for example, has the highest rates of autism, and where they re not turning to these approaches, where it s not one-size-fits-all and it s not going to be some magic silver bullet, but if you can begin to manage these conditions and these diseases with diet and nutrition, that s a universal action, and again, it really speaks to the fact that we are a national family sitting down at this national dinner table, and that together we can manage these conditions. 0:22:49.2 Ann and I both were just recently in Austin, and the concern down there is tremendous. There are young mothers there whose 35-year-old husband has just been diagnosed with all kinds of heart conditions. We ve got cancer in children at 18 months of age. And these are things we didn t see 30 years ago. And because of that, people are stopping and asking a lot of really hard questions, because as we talked about before, it s not just going to change the way you eat.
Maeve: Ann Cooper, getting back to some of the barriers you mentioned, once you have the healthy foods in schools, that s not always the end of the road there. You re trying to get kids to actually eat it. How have you been able to increase participation in school lunches, given that that s really key? Because the more kids you have eating at school, the easier it is for the program and ultimately the cheaper, the most cost-effective the program will be.
Ann: Absolutely. Raising participation is really, really important. We work with all different age groups. We had a program we started this year which was Eat Your Rainbow. We have salad bars with fresh fruits and vegetables and whole greens and healthy protein in all 48 of our schools. We went through all the elementary and K-8 schools and did Eat the Rainbow, where we invited all of the kids in the school, whether they brought lunch or bought lunch, to have a free salad. And we taught them that they have to eat different colors, so Eat the Rainbow. There had to be at least three colors, and white didn t count. So it was trying to get kids to taste different flavors, to equate eating the rainbow and all the different colors with flavors and healthy foods. That was really great in elementary schools. In high schools, we did I.M. Chef competitions. In middle schools we did tastings. We had our own chefs and guest chefs come in. Bradford Heap from Salt was there. So we ve had a lot of help from the community as well, trying to show kids that we really are cooking great food and it really does taste good.
Maeve: Are you seeing kids in the Boulder Valley school district actually participating in the salad bar? Are they getting salads? And then are they eating it? Because it s easy for kids to say, Oh, sure, I ll take a salad. But who s monitoring the trash can? Is all that salad getting eaten? 0:24:55.6
Ann: On Eat the Rainbow days, they don t get their sticker unless they eat their salad, so we really actually tell them, Eat what you take, take what you eat. And we really work with the kids on that, and we actually do monitor the trash cans and we actually do plate waste studies. It s going really well. Not all kids eat everything, and sometimes they take more than they re going to eat, but I think by and large the salad bars are a really, really great thing for the kids. They get choice, all the choices are healthy, and it s delicious.
Maeve: This issue of choice, because ultimately the parents are the ones who are providing for the child, of course, depending on the age of the child, but particularly for young children, really, they should eat what they re being given. And yet that s not the case. We re seeing picky eaters. We re seeing kids turning their nose up at things. Is it because they re being bombarded with commercials? Is it because parents are giving them too much choice? Is it as simple as saying, No, you need to eat this ? Obviously, as I said, when the child is older, maybe in high school, that s another issue, but Robyn, as a mom, how do families get beyond that? We hear this all the time: They just won t eat it. They have to eat something, so I give them what they want.
Robin: I think the parents are the last line of defense, but really, you ve got to step back and say, Let s look at the food system as a whole and how it s been structured. I was recent on a call with a VP of one of the largest food companies, and he said, Nobody today would choose the food system that we have. We can t even agree on the number of agencies that we have monitoring all of this. So when you step back from that and you realize that our children are marketed to in a very aggressive way, and children in other countries aren t, so you don t have that same nagging factor that we ve got here in the U.S. that s constantly presenting. If you look at the fact that our children are treated as this consumer model and they re on this conveyor belt of consumption, that s a pretty lucrative market for the food industry. The problem is so complex and so dynamic, and again, it s not going to be a one-size-fit-all, especially given the rates of diabetes and allergies that we re seeing in young children, but to really empower parents and caregivers at every level to try to give these children access to food wherever they may be and meet them where they are. Ann s program in the school lunches is so incredibly important, given the number of children in the U.S. that are fed in that national school lunch program. The budget is woefully underfunded, given how many children we see go through that program, and the fact that a lot of children aren t even exposed to fruits and vegetables, they re in food deserts, they don t have access, financial they don t have access, so for them to then have the opportunity to get this healthy food at school lunch is absolutely vital. 0:27:47.2
Maeve: This issue of financing, with so many people buying the processed food, it s actually cheaper than buying fresh vegetables. Of course, these issues, as we re hearing, they re so wide. It goes so much further than food. It goes into our healthcare industry, it goes into our immigration system, when we talk about how the cost of food and who s picking the food and who s presenting it. So what do you do with that, when people say it s a luxury to be able to shop at a farmers market, to be able to choose to organic option over something that s not organic, to be able to choose fresh food over processed food when it s so much cheaper to buy a Happy Meal than maybe to buy organic tomatoes and buy a salad for your family?
Robin: I think that s probably why Ann I know it s why I m doing it, and Ann and almost anybody that s involved in this space, once you get into this, you realize that this is not Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous or some hippie thing, that clean and safe food is a human rights issue. It should be affordable to absolutely every American. It s our freedom of choice and our freedom of health. And because we don t have that yet, because sadly, in the structure that we have put in place on the food system, where the federal government has chosen to use taxpayer dollars to subsidize the growth of all these crops that are used for this processed food, and then only 1% of our taxpayer dollars in those subsidies are actually used to grow fruits and vegetables, once you learn that, you realize that there is a greater need for involvement at that level, and that this really does speak to the health of absolutely every single American. There truly is not anybody that I have met yet in the food movement who doesn t recognize that this is truly a human rights issue.
Maeve: It s Robyn Obrien. She is a public speaker on the issue of nutrition, she s a mom, she s a food activist, she s the author of The Unhealthy Truth: How Our Food Is Making Us Sick and What We Can Do About It. Also joining me in the KGNU studio of Chef Ann Cooper, known as the Renegade Lunch Lady. She s currently working in Boulder Valley schools to transform school lunches. This is KGNU radio Boulder-Denver, as we continue our look at nutrition issues, particularly the issue of childhood nutrition. We welcome your calls in the last 20 minutes of the show, 303-442-4242. Chef Ann Cooper, at Boulder Valley school district, you ve got a whole variety of schools and communities in that school district. You ve got very affluent families, but you also have people on the completely opposite end of that scale. Are you seeing differences in participation or attitudes toward food according to if there s a cultural difference or an economic difference in the background of the child? 0:30:23.7
Ann: We have a really broad demographic. In Boulder proper, and in the surrounding area, we have some very, very affluent people. But over 20% of our students in the school district receive free and reduced lunch. That means their families are living at 180% or less of the poverty level. So we do schools where 50%, 60%, and 70% and more of the kids are actually in that very low demographic. And these are kids that really do need better food. When you were talking about the food system, we really have to look to the next farm bill, coming in 2012. I think most people in America really don t understand that the farm bill, and this is to play off of what Robyn said, really affects the food we eat, because in the farm bill is the commodity food system, and it is these subsidies, $45 billion, that we re spending on corn, cotton, soy, wheat, and rice, almost none of it going into our food supply, and if it is going into the food supply, it s genetically modified and going into animal feed or it makes high-fructose corn syrup, it makes trans fat, it makes 64-ounce Big Gulps for $.29. It s a really, really bad system. The USDA and Michelle Obama just came out with a new plate, but the plate has nothing to do with why we subsidize food, which is why potato chips by the pound are way cheaper per calorie than potatoes. So it s really hard to get people, especially from these lower incomes, to be able to eat better when we have access issues and we have financial issues, where we re really pushing these cheap, cheap foods into the system, and they re very unhealthy.
Maeve: The farm bill is something we ve covered a lot on KGNU, and the issue of consolidation in the food industry, too. Local farmers, food activists say, need to be subsidized, not these huge conglomerates which monopolize a part of the meat-packing industry, and then there s a concern about what s getting into that food system there. I d like to turn to the phones. We do have some people standing by. 303-442-4242. Jim, you ve been holding. What is your question or comment this morning? 0:32:35.9 Tim: Actually, it s Tim with a T. Actually, I have three comments. One, some years back I decided to do home gardening, so I grow most of my own vegetables in the summer, and now, with the delightful onset of climate change, I can do it well into the fall. This is related to one, getting kids to eat vegetables, because I noticed years ago that my child would eat vegetables out of the garden that he would not eat when I bought them at the store. I think there s some kind of chemical change that happens, like with a beet, when you leave it in then store for a couple of days. So I noticed that. Secondly, it relates to the cost of things, because although there s some up-front cost in turning your yard into a garden, once you ve fronted the up-front cost, the vegetables are way cheaper than at the store. You can buy a packet of seeds for two bucks that will give you a seemingly endless supply of, let s say, kale. So that s number one. Number two, a person you should put on your reading list is a fellow named Elliot Coleman. He lives in Maine. You can find him on any list of gardening books. He makes his living by growing vegetables in Maine in unheated greenhouses. It s quite remarkable. I ve done minor experiments with his techniques here in Colorado, and I can verify that there s really something to what this guy does. And third, I m kind of debating making a proposal to the city council of turning some parts of streets into community gardens. I was sitting on my front stoop the other day and gazing out and noticing that the place that gets the most sun around my house is the street. And you could turn half of many streets, sections of the street, you could turn it into a community garden so that people would not have to even go to the store to get their food. Of course, the city would have to put up some money, initially, to get this started. I haven t done a survey of the streets of Boulder to figure out exactly where this is applicable and where it s not. You d need to leave a place for the garbage truck to get through, I suppose.
Maeve: Tim, they re all great points, and I think something similar is happening in Denver, where public parks are being used now to grow food. I know in parts of City Park now that they re growing vegetables in there, they re donating those to food banks and various different things like that. So I think you re on to something there. Keep us posted if you actually get any further with that idea. Tim raises several points. There is a definite movement toward people growing their own food. This is definitely all connected. And this issue, where children, when they see what s growing, how a beet comes out of the ground as opposed to something processed in a jar and they don t even recognize it as a vegetable, when a child is presented with that connection, it seems to do something with their attitude toward food. Chef Ann Cooper, is that something you ve experienced? 0:36:01.2
Ann: We re very, very fortunate in Boulder Valley school district to have a partnership with the Grow Foundation. We have gardens currently in 14 of our schools, and we re adding a couple schools per year. If we really want to change children s relationship to food, they really have to participate in that, and gardens are such a wonderful way to get kids to understand that carrots grow in dirt, that dirt is not a bad thing, it s not our enemy. The soil is really important. In Berkeley we had gardens in every school. I think there s a growing movement across the country now, to put gardens in every school, and I hope that happens.
Maeve: We have full lines this morning. 303-442-4242 is the number. Mick in Denver, you re our next caller, welcome to KGNU. Mick: Hello. Most children, from my experience, haven t had the personal experience of pulling a radish out of the ground. I think that would be a good place to start. The other thought is that, from Michael Pollan, that the real cost of food is not reflected in its price at the market but is reflected in its external cost, its potential to health, the waterways, the pollution, the fuel that s used to transport it. When you put those costs into the price of a hamburger, it becomes quite expensive to eat that hamburger. It might cost $100 by the time you pay for your diabetes medicine down the line. Thank you.
Maeve: Thank you very much, Mick, and of course labor costs as well are never reflected in food. Robyn, that was something you spoke about earlier, you said the hidden cost that we re not seeing in terms of the impact then on the healthcare system.
Robin: Absolutely. The U.S. spend more on healthcare and managing disease than any other country in the world. We ve got the highest rates of all kinds of conditions. Diabesity is referred to as an American epidemic because of the combination we re seeing between obesity and diabetes. And not only is it weighing on our personal finances, but it s weighing on the finances of our corporations and of our economy. 0:38:23.2
Maeve: We have lots of callers standing by waiting to get in on this conversation. Robyn Obrien, author of The Unhealthy Truth: How Our Food Is Making Us Sick and What We Can Do About It, is my guest along with Chef Ann Cooper, currently working in Boulder Valley school district to transform school lunches. Next I d like to go to Dan in Boulder. Welcome to KGNU. What s your question or comment? Dan: My comment is that, I just moved here three years ago from the Dallas-Fort Worth area, and Boulder itself, it s very hard for a family I m on a very limited income, but we go to the farmers market as much as possible and we buy the fresh fruits from the gardens like Crescent Farms, things like that. It s educating the parent, the adult, to be OK with paying a little more for a vegetable that is better for you and maybe eating a little less into the diet, the regular portions of the diet should be. I think it s very hard if a parent had been generation through generation of buying from Tom Thumb not Tom Thumb, but whatever the major grocery store is, I don t know how to get in the mind that to pay 10% more, even if to work that into your budget is very hard to do, but it needs to be done, because like you said, I don t think the education is out there enough for the adult that s going and buying a True Value loaf of bread, there s nothing in that loaf of bread.
Maeve: Dan, that s a good point. It seems to reemphasize what we re talking about. The real cost of food is not reflected in the cost, as well as, we re addicted to cheap food. We think that food should be cheap. And maybe we need to have a paradigm shift where it s like, no, actually, you are supposed to spend more of your total income on good food or maybe less of it. Dan: We ve got a little thing of organic dried apples, but they came all the way from Fiji or something like that, instead of down the street. And they were cheaper than what you could buy that was packaged up from someone that was doing it individually. Something s got to change out there.
Maeve: Dan, thank you so much for your call. 303-442-4242. The interconnectedness of this, it s a bit mind-boggling when you think, All if want to do is feed my kids something healthy, and you get into globalization and labor issues and water and conservation. But a lot of people I think bring up this issue of, is it better to buy something that s locally grown but maybe not organic, or organic, but it s coming from Fiji? You ve got a lot of other hidden costs in that, too. Any thoughts on that, Ann or Robyn? 0:41:25.6
Ann: I always say Local first. I think that if we re going to have a good, healthy food system, we have to support our local and regional farmers. By and large, if you know your farmer and there s a face to that farmer and you can support your local community, that will go a long way to having the best possible food, and as you work with your local community, you can help people move to less chemically dependent forms of agriculture.
Maeve: We have about 10 minutes left in the show looking at the issue of nutrition. Full lines this morning, we ll try to get to all of our callers. Mary in Golden, you ve been standing by. Welcome to KGNU. What s your question or comment? Mary: Well, I m just curious. I m a teacher, and the school that I teach in is about 50% free and reduced lunch. As I look at kids coming in, and we don t have a program like the one you re talking about in our school, I m just curious if it s possible for the costs to be somewhat manageable if you have a healthy offering that was just pretty similar every day, so you could get a hard-boiled egg and a bowl of whole-grain cereal for breakfast, instead of those fake waffles with high-fructose corn syrup poured over the top of them. It just seems to me, when I was in the Peace Corps and there were food programs, in a drought-relief program I worked in, people would work, and we would get whole bags of whole grains to bring home to cook to feed to their families, and then when I came back to this country and you stand in line and people are using food stamps to buy huge frozen pizzas that are horrible for people s health, it just seems like we could have some I don t know, just basic beans and things like that for lunches that don t have to cost a huge amount of money and would be so much healthier for kids, and then we have all of these issues with an achievement gap, and we know that we re not growing healthy grains by the kind of food that kids are having put in front of them.
Maeve: Mary, thanks for that question. Chef Ann Cooper, is it as simple as that? I know you ve mentioned there are so many other issues towards getting healthy food in schools.
Ann: It goes back to what Robyn says about having a really broken food system. The USDA sets the guidelines on what we have to serve kids. They give us $2.72 as a reimbursement rate, and for instance, for lunch, I have to serve fruit, vegetable, grain, and it should be 51% protein and then milk, as if every child in America needs milk. And I m supposed to do that all for $2.72, including paying for all of my staff and their healthcare costs and the trucks to drive the food around, everything. It just doesn t make sense. Most schools are spending less than $1.00 on the food, and yet we have to have this plethora of items. So it s very difficult. 0:44:43.3 There s billions and billions and billions of dollars in this, so there s a lot of lobbying, a lot of money in this. And so it s a very politicalized system, and it is not that easy to change.
Maeve: But let s not be discouraged and still work towards change.
Ann: Absolutely. Mary, thanks for your call. We have lots of people standing by. We ll try to squeeze in our last few callers in the last few minutes of the show. Kelsey in Denver, thanks for being so patient. What is your question or comment this morning? Kelsey: Yeah, I have about 20, but I ll ask one. As a type 1 diabetic, I went to the University of Denver. They have a center there for type 1 diabetes, juvenile onset, and I recall the dieticians who worked on the medical team telling me that if I ate a whole bunch of pasta and bagels and make sure that I got my carbos and they were giving me tips on how to prepare healthy meals, and she was just so excited about pasta. I later learned, by the time I was 22, I had high cholesterol, and I was following what I was told by these people who I trusted as nutritionists in an office who I thought had my best interests, and they probably thought, too, but I learned that the reason why I was getting cholesterol wasn t because of my quote-unquote I wasn t eating high fat, because that s what I was told. If you have high cholesterol, you get it from your high-fat diet. I found out I had high cholesterol from inflammation caused by simple carbohydrates. So I did research and I asked my dietician at this clinic, What about coconut oil? Oh, no, no, no, no, saturated, saturated, don t eat it. So I continued to follow my own intuition and to not listen to what I was told from a White House FDA meal plan or my doctor at a university hospital, and I lowered my cholesterol with fish oil and coconut oil. How do we know when someone s telling us that yogurt, full of gelatin, corn starch, food coloring, when all these people are being told yogurt, Yoplait, is good for them, how do people learn that what they re told sometimes is maybe doing them a sad diet damage? 0:47:11.2
Maeve: Kelsey, thanks for sharing that story. Robyn Obrien, this goes back to what we spoke about earlier. We re told thing, This is good for your child, this is labeled as being good for you as nutrition, and you find out it s not, this can be shattering for people. What do people do, given that we re not nutritionists, we re not experts? What can people like Kelsey do?
Robin: You know what s fascinating is, in this country, we have a for-profit medical system, so basically sickness sells. When you have a for-profit system, you re trying to drive revenue through that system. Most developed countries have a not-for-profit system, which means they ve got to control those costs. So they try to keep their populations healthy. They have an incentive to promote wellness. Here in the U.S., one of the most stunning things that I learned is that diet and nutrition is really not required coursework in medical school. Our doctors are taught to practice medicine, which is to promote and prescribe, not necessarily to prevent. But we are seeing a shift. One of the things that I encourage people to always do is to seek a second opinion. In no way is it intended to be age-discriminatory, but what we are seeing is that more women are getting into healthcare, and the doctors are younger and they really are integrating diet and nutrition into their practice methods. So if you like this listener, if you have an issue where your gut is telling you something else, seek second and third opinions, because there are doctors out there that are really working with the whole patient and not simply treating the symptoms.
Maeve: Thanks so much for sharing that story. In the last couple of minutes I m going to try and squeeze in our final two callers. Martin in Boulder, welcome to KGNU. What s your question or comment? 0:49:01.6 Martin: Thank you very much. Thank you. Well, I was at a wonderful dinner at Arugula, which is an excellent restaurant, the food is healthful and well prepared and tasteful. And the KGNU food guru was there, and he s a this has been a difficult call to make. He s a wonderful gentleman, he s got a great personality, he s been loyal to KGNU for years, and he looks like a coronary under construction. It was sad to see how morbidly obese this gentleman is, and I feel like the food guru at KGNU should reflect the kind of talk that we ve been hearing right now on the radio, that encouraging people to go to pie festivals and eating calorie-drenched non-food, I don t know, it seems hypocritical on the part of the radio station. And like I say, it s been a difficult call for me to make, because he s a wonderful gentleman, and I feel bad for him, because he does not look like he s going to be around for a very long time.
Maeve: Martin, thank you so much for that call. We certainly appreciate your thoughtful comments on our programming here at KGNU. We just have two minutes left, so I m going to go to Julia. Do you have a very brief question or comment this morning? Julia: Yes, I do. I m a preschool teacher at a Montessori school here in Boulder. The last two summers I was farming manager at an organic garden. We d get to see these kids, they d get to school and they d pick their own salads and they d pick their own radishes, and there were three-year-olds excited to eat that, which I had never seen in my career. Coming from working at a school in Oregon, we asked children, What s your favorite food? and they d say, It s a Big Mac, or I like the tacos at Taco Bell. And it s not only about getting kids in the garden and getting them to try these schools, but actually teaching them the value of nutrition and taking care of our bodies and taking care of each other, and the planet with our practices of how we eat.
Maeve: Julia, that s a great comment to end on. Thank you so much for calling in today. You know, there s a lot of projects, ideas actually happening in local school districts. We heard about the INEP, Integrative Nutrition Education Program. KGNU partners with them on Eat Your Radio, Chef Ann Cooper at Boulder Valley school district. There are things happening, but it seems like we need to all start connecting and maybe give up on the fact that it might happen federally, but if we all work locally, Robyn, your thoughts on that?
Robin: I do. I think it s one of the most patriotic things that we can be doing, to restore the health of our families and our children, because our future is 100% dependent on them.
Maeve: Chef Ann Cooper, your final thoughts, given that we ve had a couple of people calling in to say, We d love to have this kind of program in our school district. If people would like to see a change in their school district, what can they do?
Ann: My foundation has built two websites where we re trying to help people make these changes. The first one is TheLunchBox.org, which has tools for schools to change from processed schools to healthy foods. And we re also involved in something called Let s Move Salad Bars to Schools, where we re partnering with the First Lady s Let s Move initiative and trying to put salad bars in every school in America. So far we ve put out 700 salad bars this year, and that s saladbars2schools.org, so you can get a salad bar for your school, and visit TheLunchBox.org.
Maeve: Robyn Obrien, you have a website as well?
Robin: Absolutely. We have information where parents can learn how to do one thing. For those who can t afford to go organic but who do want to make these changes, come to AllergyKids.com. We have a Do One Thing page that will help you get started.
Maeve: Excellent. And of course, don t forget, EatYourRadio.kgnu.org, hear all of our excellent fifth grade nutrition reports, you can read recipes as well, and it s also in Spanish. Lots of ideas there. We link to all the websites that we ve mentioned this morning, if you go to our website, KGNU.org. I d like to thank both of my guests. Robyn Obrien, thank you so much for coming in, and Chef Ann Cooper, thank you so much for coming in.