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News Fri Jul 16 2010

School Lunch Doc Offers Lesson in History and Food Politics

Filmmakers Ernie Park and Michael Graziano brought their documentary, Lunch Line, to Chicago this week. The film follows six high-school students from Tilden Career Community Academy who won the Cooking Up Change challenge in 2009, and then went on to take the affordable and healthy school lunch they created to Washington, D.C. Interspersed with the footage of their journey and their musings about whether their audience in D.C. even cares about what's served to America's school children, the film covers the history of the National School Lunch Program.

One of the high-school girls talks about her love of the Twilight series, and the way the werewolves and vampires unite for the common goal of protecting Bella, the human girl. Lunch Line goes on to show animated werewolves in the in the 1940s, arguing that the school-lunch program should fall under the Department of Education, because it's about the kids; vampires want the program under the Department of Agriculture, so it can help farmers. Ultimately, they unite and create it under the USDA. Over the years, the program has been hindered by lack of funds and by nutrition guidelines that penalize schools for not having a certain number of calories per meal, and guidelines that include ketchup as a vegetable (something Jamie Oliver has decried in his visits to schools).

The Organic School Project's work at Alcott Elementary School, here in Chicago, is shown in the second half of the film. OSP and Alcott parents tried hard to sustain the organic lunches and vegetable garden at Alcott, but couldn't do it. Even as the project stalled, Chartwells, the public-schools' food contractor that worked with OSP, has become committed to buying more local and fresh produce. And the CPS has switched to food-based guidelines for school lunches and breakfasts, allowing for more fruits, vegetables and whole grains even when they don't meet calorie counts.

The second-half of the film is set off with this quote from Benjamin Franklin: "Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are." Across the country activists (and the First Lady) are working to improve the food served in schools, sometimes to kids who rely on those meals as their only meals. Doing their part, indie bands Loney Dear, Mates of State and Post Harber contributed music for the film, some of which adds to the emotional resonance of a subject that might not seem emotional to begin with.

Anyone interested in learning more about another Chicago screening can visit the Lunch Line Facebook page. Or, visit the Healthy Schools Campaign site to find out how to get even more involved.


greg christian / July 16, 2010 5:01 PM

the organic school project has not stalled.
we are in phase two of our project--which has to do with calling on schooldistricts and an awesome seasonal cookbook for food service professionals who work in schools--stay tuned--

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I was using Rick Bayless' restroom, I mused, staring up at the ceiling window that was projecting a heavenly beacon of light upon my less-than-angelic duties. I could barely distinguish Rick's faint murmurs through the orange walls, something about how...
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