Vail Valley Voices: Healthy questions about food at school |

Vail Valley Voices: Healthy questions about food at school

With obesity at almost pandemic proportions in America, a group of Eagle County parents has decided to do something about it. They have joined together to pursue the common goal of ridding our kids’ school-day diets of processed foods and replacing them with healthy lunches.

Many of these parents have met Eagle County School District’s director of food services, Ray Edel, on and off for more than a year in an effort to move this process along. Most recently, on June 1, I attended such a meeting with Mr. Edel to make some decisions regarding the types of dairy products served in school cafeterias.

During the meeting, one woman asked, “Who will make the decision regarding this matter?”

Mr. Edel responded that he didn’t know but would take their findings to Sandra Symser, the shool district superintendent, and perhaps she would take it to the school board. Subsequently, Mr. Edel advised me via e-mail that the decision has now been postponed until August.

Meanwhile, I e-mailed Mr. Edel, asking him the broader question of who makes the ultimate decision regarding all foods the school district serves our kids. Mr. Edel advised that the decision-makers were the Colorado Department of Education, the Federal Commodity Foods Program, Phil Onofrio (CFO and Mr. Edel’s boss) and himself.

Vis-a-vis the two different answers above, I am still unclear as to the decision-making process.

Nevertheless, I felt it equally as important to ascertain the status of this healthy-lunch initiative, and e-mailed Mr. Edel, asking, “What stands between healthy foods being served in schools next fall, and where the district is now?” (Healthy foods being defined as foods that are not chemically altered; i.e., refined, hydrogenated or supplemented with artificial ingredients from the time it’s harvested to the time it reaches the child’s plate.)

Mr. Edel responded, “That is a HUGE question,” and went on to cite money, training, work force, vendors, availability, food safety, education, main stream marketing, etc., but did not provide any specifics.

Frankly, I was delighted Mr. Edel thought it was a huge question. That’s why I asked it. Anyone who has ever dealt with multi-faceted concerns understands there’s always more to an issue than what meets the casual observer’s eye, and the issue of putting healthy foods into the Eagle County School District is just such an undertaking.

There’s little doubt the school district will face hurdles should it choose to embark upon the project of modifying its food services. Even so, this is a very real concern for many members of our community. And since understanding is the best first step towards resolution, many feel it would benefit the community if someone in authority at the district went on the record and elucidated upon the following:

n How or why is the money necessary for healthy lunches any different than the money needed for the current fare?

n Specifically, how does the Colorado Department of Education and the Federal Commodity Foods Program factor into the process?

n What are the specific training issues, and who would need to be trained?

n What are the work-force issues Mr. Edel pointed out?

n What specific vendor issues are involved?

n What is meant by availability?

n How does food safety enter into the equation?

n Who needs to be educated and what specific education needs to take place?

n What is meant by “mainstream marketing”?

n Has the school district begun addressing any of the above issues?

n If not and if the school district began tomorrow, how long would it take to address each of the above?

n Specifically who at the district would be responsible to address each of those questions?

Perhaps pushing the school district to implement a healthy lunch program is little more than a grand notion and beyond the purview of the aforementioned group of concerned parents. Nevertheless, without clear direction from the school district, these community members will be left with a wish list when what they’re really looking for is a to-do list.”

Transforming our school lunch program from its current state to one of providing healthy foods for our kids is a formidable task. But as W. Clement Stone opined, “Whatever the mind of man can conceive and believe it can achieve.”

It’s postulated here that if the people who control the process truly believe in providing healthy foods for our kids, they will find a way to make it happen.

Quote of the day: “No man stands so straight as when he stoops to help a child.”

Butch Mazzuca is an Edwards resident.

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