Angry mothers are on the march to improve school lunch programs.
About 25 people were in attendance at the Ann Arbor Public Library on Sept. 26 for a screening of the documentary film, “Two Angry Moms.”
Rachel Hilliker, an angry mom from Lansing, has been touring the state and hosting screenings of the film.
“I was becoming increasingly frustrated because I came across a school in Michigan that served fast food five days a week,” said Hilliker.
“A lot of the moms that come to my screenings say, ‘That’s great, that’s great,’” she said, referring to her work advocating healthier school lunch programs. “Let me know what you are doing. But what I need is a coalition of other moms.”
The film opens with a lunch lady preparing a typical school lunch of French fries topped with fried cheese sticks. A side of marinara sauce, and an unnaturally blue slushy completes the meal. The movie also shows how candy, snack foods and sugar sodas are now made available to kids on cafeteria lunch lines and in vending machines.
In the 1970s, public schools began experiencing revenue shortfalls. To increase revenue, some schools started looking at areas like lunch programs, according to the film.
“The food service part of the school budget for a school needs to be a moneymaker,” said Hilliker. “Switching over to healthier food…there is a lot of start up costs.
Fund raising is required. You will be met with resistance because schools are getting funds cut for their programs.
“It is a big fight.”
One avenue for change for an angry mom is to form a “wellness committee.” These groups set the rules for the food standards in a school lunch programs. Once new rules are set, the school has to follow them.
The film follows one such wellness committee that successfully petitioned its school board to change the school lunch program. These revised, healthier school programs are often met with resistance, as shown in the film.
Students typically rebel against the healthier food choices, and the sales come down. But usually after a few months, sales return to normal and the kids, who are the loudest critics, are won over, as shown in the film.
The lack of basic education about food is part of the problem, said Hilliker.
We treat school food as a service at a school like custodial services or mowing the lawn, but not as education, said Amy Kalafa, the director of “Two Angry Moms.”
“I found it interesting in Jamie Oliver’s ‘Food Revolution’ when he held up a potato to a group of students, and no one knew what it was. But most probably ate French fries for lunch that day,” said Hilliker. “I think it is important that kids know where food comes from. It is important to teach them about nutrition.
“Food marketing companies have taken over teaching our kids about food. They’re brainwashing our kids. We’re battling the big food industry. Their cool packaging… they’re tying themselves to popular children’s movies. We have created a society where we do not need to know how to cook because everything comes in a package. I think that home economics would empower kids.”
School gardens were featured in the film as a popular program to help educate children about food. Kids feel connected and excited to gardening because of the popularity of the White House garden started by First Lady Michelle Obama, Kalafa said. But starting a learning garden at a school has its own set of problems.
“Who is going to take care of it during the summer?” Hilliker asked.
One of the solutions for managing school gardens when class is not in session comes from the FoodCorps program, a new part of Americorps. Starting next fall, FoodCorps will provide manpower to create, manage and maintain school gardens in the summer months.
Then there is The Child Nutrition Reauthorization Bill, which allocates funds for school lunch programs. The bill is updated every five years and was expected to be signed into law by the Sept. 30 deadline. But controversy surrounding the bill caused a delay.
Advocates for the bill, which included Michelle Obama, were happy for the allocated six-cent increase per meals for the school lunch program, the first increase since 1973.
“Unfortunately, those funds were taken from the federal food stamp program,” said Hilliker.
It is expected to be signed in law after the midterm election.
Meanwhile, Hilliker keeps herself busy as a healthy school lunch advocate by attending other Ann Arbor events like “School Lunches: What Our Kids are Eating and What You Can Do About It” – a panel discussion held on Oct. 6.
“I have to stay optimistic in order keep doing this,” she said. “I’m not going to give up
“Yes I am angry, but I think you have to focus your anger in a positive way to get anything done,” she added.