Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Can one person truly make a difference?


Certainly not if you don't do or say anything.

For someone who's doing something - let's talk Mrs. Q.

I first mentioned Mrs. Q. a few weeks ago. She's a school teacher somewhere in Illinois who has pledged to eat the same school lunches fed to the kids for the remainder of this school year. Her blog, Fed Up with School Lunch - The School Lunch Project details her experiences and has also garnered the attention of many guest bloggers. The site's explosion into the blogosphere is a testament to how important this issue is to so many people - in the scant 3 months since Mrs. Q. hit the scene her site's recorded over 350,000 visits, with over 100,000 of those in the past 10 days alone.

I had contacted Mrs. Q. for an interview a ways back and while at first she was hesitant as she's become fearful that her undercover work is going to cost her job, she later emailed me and kindly offered to answer some questions. When I asked her about her change of heart she replied,

"I've just come to the conclusion that the project is more important than whether or not I lose my job"
Here's what Mrs. Q. had to say:

Clearly you’re concerned about the kids, in your wildest dreams how do you see your project helping to inspire change?
I see myself as a catalyst. I want parents to get a glimpse into what their kids are eating every day since most have no idea. I want people, teachers and parents, to start demanding the best possible food for the children of this country. I'd like to see fewer processed foods, more variety, and more fruits and veggies.
You mentioned to AOL Health that you’re, “waiting for the moment I'm called to the principal's office and let go. I do believe it's a matter of 'when' not 'if' they find out and it's curtains for me and then of course the project.” How might what you’re doing be grounds for dismissal?
The project might not lead to my outright firing, but it's possible that things might be "uncomfortable" for me and I might just need to leave. I mean, I'm showing something that could be interpreted as criticism of the school and/or the district. That's not my point, but school administration could be offended.
What do you think the school would do in their damage control efforts if you were found out given the incredible interest in your story?
Damage control? Well, not firing me would be one way to not make this turn into a PR disaster.
Is there a natural extension to your project? What happens once the year is up?
I can't predict where this project is headed. Honestly, I've been shocked that I've gotten this much attention this fast. So I wasn't able to predict what happened with the blog thus far and now, well, it's anyone's guess.
Could teachers band together to form a lobby promoting healthy school food or would employment contracts forbid any such type of organized dissent?
I think that forming a lobby or some kind of organization devoted to school food is overdue. I don't know enough about labor contracts to answer if that would be possible. Teacher leadership is critical.
In your school, who’s fault is it? Meaning is it a consequence of a State or Federal program that’s failed the kids, the school itself, the school board, etc? Follow up question – who’s job would it be to fix it?
What you see on my tray is a systematic failure over years. Small changes to save money accumulated and the increased involvement of corporations has changed everything and convinced us that functional kitchens are expensive. Unfortunately like so many advancements, the old way was sustainable and best for humanity. Also the Child Nutrition Act needs more money. Not to sound cliche but children are our future and even poor kids deserve high quality food. If people don't want to pay for good food for poor kids, they will pay later when healthcare costs continue exploding and these children are adults who are fat and unhealthy and cannot contribute to our society.
Can you comment about what’s taught to the kids about nutrition in your school? Is it just the Food Pyramid in gym class or is there more time spent in other classes as well?
Nutrition is not taught explicitly to the students. The food pyramid is not on display although I have seen it incorporated into the occasional classroom lesson.
Is there anything you’d like to add that you haven’t said elsewhere or that you feel is essential to any article about you and your project?
I'm not against lunch ladies or food service workers. In fact I'm advocating for them to get the respect they deserve as people who do something amazing for children every day. If they served fresh food that was less processed and got training in nutrition, I believe it would elevate the profile of their profession nationally -- to where it should be.
Thanks to Mrs. Q. for taking the time to answer my questions and more importantly for helping to call attention to the incredible need to fix this broken system.

I've heard it said that it'll take villages of villages to fix this problem. Mrs. Q.'s work shines a powerful spotlight on why that might be and while there won't be any quick fixes here, that doesn't mean it isn't doable but one thing's for certain - we need a great many more folks as engaged as Mrs. Q.

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3 comments:

  1. I applaud this teacher for her work and hope that she doesn't have any problems with administration or her school board. It's great that she is raising awareness, but the parents are the ones who need to make a fuss and try to facilitate change. Teachers are often seen as whiners and complainers by administration but parents are the "clients" and (hopefully!) as a group can push for change. The post on Mrs. Q's blog from Daniel in Japan is worth a read through to see how food can be created, delivered and received with respect, good health and the environment in mind.

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  2. I need some advice.
    I'm administration officer at my local Air Cadet Squadron (for youth aged 12-18), and halfway through each training night we bring out a few boxes with snacks and drinks that the cadets can purchase. Historically this has consisted of chocolate bars and pop. A few months ago I spoke to the commanding officer about implementing a better nutrition program for the cadets, and she agreed, so we had the cadets make up a list of healthy alternatives such as nuts, granola bars, and water bottles. It was great, but once the healthy snacks had been used up, our supply officer restocked the canteen with chips and sugary drinks, complaining that healthy foods weren't good. Many of our cadets are overweight, and certainly none of them should be binging on chocolate and soda at 8:30 at night during classes. How do I implement positive change when there's so much pressure against it?

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  3. Hi Jen,

    It's a great question for which I don't have a great answer.

    I know the US Military has published a number of concerning reports regarding obesity and the impact on the forces. Perhaps pulling some of these reports together and trying to engage the commanding officer again may be useful.

    Also, depending on how noisy you want to be, pulling together those reports along with a rejection of suggestion from the Commanding Officer would likely make a local health reporter (or even a national health reporter) very happy.

    If you are interested in going the reporter route after trying on your own let me know and I can steer you to some friendly ones.

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