Racks of chips and their starchy kin tempt us in machines and at roadside stops.
In inner city neighborhoods, life often requires a day trip by bus to find fresh vegetables or meat that doesn’t twirl on a roller grill.
A new documentary, “A Place at the Table,” lays bare the plight of Americans, those unsure tonight’s family meal will fill enough plates. Mississippi is our state with the highest number of obese residents and home to too many for whom food insecurity is a daily worry.
Besides the emotional and physical drain sea to shining sea hunger brings with it, there is a genuine cost to hunger in this country. One in three of its victims will develop Type 2 diabetes.
Twenty million Americans live in “food desserts,” places where meals are cobbled together from markets tied to gas stations, the only grocery stores in neighborhoods where fresh fruits and vegetables not available.
Forty-four million of us are on food stamps, and, at some point, one in every two of this nation’s children would go hungry without them.
It is hard to believe we were a nation of skinny farm boys as World War II began. It was not unusual to have Army recruits turned away because they were underweight.
Today, three-fourths of young volunteers in the 19-to-25 age group carry too many extra pounds to make it through the rigors of basic training. Only 25 percent who sign up are physically fit for military service.
“A Place at the Table” reminds us too many families are forced to subsidize their weekly grocery bills with staples from local food banks. In 1980, churches and charitable organizations began stock-piling canned goods to share with neighbors who had fallen on hard times.
Nearly 25 years later, the number of food banks in this country is 40,000.
Advocates for families who do not have enough to eat claim we are in denial, refusing to look at the problem of hunger in this country. But we are also a nation subsidizing agri-business, corporate farms, investing in crops that do not call to mind whole grains and vegetables.
Luckily, today’s school children are guaranteed one-third of their daily dietary needs if they eat in the lunchroom.
I grew up foraging a school lunch out of a brown paper bag, dreading contact with cafeteria food, mystery meat and cornbread, hard as concrete.
But today’s school nutrition is serious business, its intention riding on the reality a good lunch could be the only hot meal in a child’s day.
Jenna Herrick watches over Mableton Elementary School’s cafeteria with a loving hand and the zeal of a woman who can turn kale into veggie chips students eat like Doritos.
“We recently received 36 pounds of Georgia grown strawberries,” she says, “and, for breakfast at school, we served them with French toast. The children cleaned their plates.”
Mableton Elementary students are eating more fruits and vegetables and fewer processed foods. “It is great when parents visit the school cafeteria to eat with their children and see the healthier choices lunches offer,” Genna Herrick believes, noting portion sizes at her school are larger and fat content has declined.
The school lunch program, which began in 1942 to help stave off hunger in our nation’s children, has a new role as watchdog in the fight against obesity.
Cafeteria manager Herrick’s dream is to participate in a program bringing fresh produce and more than run of the mill fruits and vegetables to her school every day.
“There are exotic fruits the children have never seen or tasted,” she explains.
School lunches in Jenna Herrick’s cafeteria are good news, healthy for children, tempering the sad truth of one in six Americans going to bed hungry every night.
Judy Elliott is an award-winning
columnist from Marietta.