Oct. 24 is Food Day, a time to reflect on the foods we -- and our kids -- eat.
There are 17.9 million food insecure households, 3.9 million of whom have children.
Yet, more than one-third of U.S. children and adolescents are overweight or obese. Ironically, food insecurity often contributes to obesity.
So does lack of proper education about food and nutrition. On average, U.S. students get less than four hours of food education per year. Millions of kids aren't learning about the importance of fresh, nutritious food at home or at school, making it almost impossible for them to be healthy adults.
To make matters worse, fast food and soft drinks are in greater supply -- and cheaper -- than ever before. The combination of aggressive advertising campaigns by fast food companies and the cheapness and accessibility of low-nutrient, high-caloric products has proven, unfortunately, to be extremely effective. A study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture found that 30 percent of children and adolescents between the ages of 4 and 19 in the U.S. consume fast food every day!
The World Health Organization has said that marketing junk food to kids is "a public health threat," noting a strong connection between children's exposure to junk food marketing and their consumption of high-fat and processed foods.
As a counter to this, in kitchens, schoolyard gardens and cafeterias all over the world, parents, teachers and students are finding opportunities to learn how to grow, cook, process and share fresh, nutritious food. By providing students with fresh, nutritious foods, educational institutions can teach healthy eating habits in the most direct way possible.
The Kitchen Community in Chicago and Denver, for example, is not only providing children with fresh produce in lunchrooms, but also actually teaching them how to grow fruits and vegetables themselves. Their learning gardens instruct students about how to grow natural food, which is then incorporated into their own school cafeteria menus.
And KIDS Can Make a Difference is teaching middle- and high-school students about the societal problems that cause hunger and poverty, and what they can do to solve them.
In New York, some restaurants have teamed up with the New York Coalition for Healthy School Food for the Cool School Food project, which designs and tests plant- and legume-based school cafeteria menus in both Ithaca and New York City.
As part of the federally run AmeriCorps Network, FoodCorps service members work with local organizations to enhance the level of nutrition education in schools, engage students directly with their food through school garden projects and coordinate farm-to-school programs that bring local farmers and educators together to transform cafeterias into educational environments.
It's time to cultivate the next generation of eaters, farmers, scientists and policymakers for a more sustainable food system.
Copyright Danielle Nierenberg and Lilia Smelkova.
Photo: Flickr user Nicolas Boullosa, creative commons licensed.