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A wish for Toronto--A Garden in Every School Yard, and info on Salad Bar program

  • Subject: [cg] A wish for Toronto--A Garden in Every School Yard, and info on Salad Bar program
  • From: "Sharon Gordon" gordonse@one.net
  • Date: Thu, 28 Aug 2003 13:14:32 -0400
  • Importance: Normal


Even kids can love the salad bar

Toronto Daily Star
August 27, 2003

He'd never tasted chickpeas before. He was sure he wouldn't like them.

"Try one," urged Joanne Porter of FoodShare, putting a single chickpea on
the little boy's plate. He looked at it dubiously and went to sit with his

After a time, he put the unfamiliar vegetable into his mouth gingerly, ready
to spit it out. Then his expression changed. He liked it.

Within minutes, other youngsters flocked to the salad bar, asking for

"That's how kids learn to choose healthy alternatives," Porter said.

Last year, she and her colleagues at FoodShare, a community agency dedicated
to making nutritious food widely available, launched a pilot project at nine
Toronto schools. They brought in a child-sized salad bar stocked with
fruits, vegetables, grain products and a daily source of protein so kids
could create a healthy lunch.

There were plenty of skeptics at first. What would a generation programmed
to salivate at the sight of McDonald's golden arches, want with broccoli and
arugula? How could fresh produce compete with hotdogs and chips? Why would
kids eat foods they'd never seen at home?

"Initially, they are inclined to say no," Porter acknowledged. "So you let
them sample. You make it fun to try new things. You talk about what they
liked and what they didn't."

The program turned out to be the surprise hit of the 2002-2003 school year.

Parents came and joined their children for lunch. Volunteers - some who
could barely speak English - bonded with their neighbours as they chopped,
diced and served. Teachers and students ate together.

Lunchtime at the school became a community event.

This fall, five more schools are getting salad bars. FoodShare hopes to add
another 15 schools in 2004.

To Debbie Field, executive director of the organization, the experiment
proves three things:

 Kids are willing to eat healthy foods, if they are presented appealingly.

 Parents want their children to learn about good nutrition.

 The battle against childhood obesity, teenage anorexia and classroom hunger
is winnable.

"If every child in the city of Toronto had a salad bar lunch, they'd be
filling most of their nutritional requirements, linking our schools to local
farmers and finding out that eating together is a healthy social
experience," Field said.

Money, of course, is the problem. Although FoodShare keeps the price of its
salad-bar lunches down to $2 per student by using non-profit bulk produce
and volunteer labour, that is still too expensive for Toronto's
overstretched school nutrition program. It has $5 million a year to feed
65,000 students in 220 schools.

A national charity, Canadian Feed the Children, is underwriting the
salad-bar initiative. But it cannot be expected to subsidize the expansion
of the program to hundreds of schools. Nor is Field convinced that teaching
healthy eating should be left to private charities.

She dreams of a national student nutrition program, funded by governments
and open to every child, regardless of income or family circumstances. She
envisages gardens in every school-yard. She would like to see low-cost
farmers' markets in every neighbourhood. She believes healthy, affordable
food is a basic human right.

But one of the lessons Field has learned, in her years as a social activist,
is that big changes often begin with small innovations.

That is why FoodShare launched its salad bar program; why it established an
organic garden on the grounds of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health;
why it distributes 4,000 "Good Food Boxes" packed with fresh produce every
month; and why it turns all its food scraps into rich, pleasant-smelling

"Every experiment we're doing has large social policy implications," Field
pointed out. "They just have to be ratcheted up."

There is one kind of government action that Field does not favour. She
thinks a ban on junk food in schools (which provincial Liberal leader Dalton
McGuinty is proposing) would be a mistake.

For one thing, it would make the prohibited foods more enticing. For
another, it would be a case of adults imposing their will on kids, rather
than communities coming together to make smart choices.

She and her partners at FoodShare are trying to build a grassroots movement
of students, parents and educators to get rid of pop machines and candy
dispensers, school by school.

They want to change what's going on in kids' heads, not just what's going
into their mouths. That means teaching them to say no when they've had
enough and helping them understand the importance of walking and running and
playing outside.

Porter still encounters people who dismiss childhood obesity as the latest
in a long string of media-fuelled health scares. She keeps hearing that
salad bars are just a fad.

She urges the cynics to open their eyes. Kids like good food. They want
healthy bodies. With a little encouragement, they'll decide that hummus is
yummy and chickpeas are cool.

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