Pass the greens
Open letter to Kerry Huff, principal of Porter Creek Secondary, re new cafeteria and healthy food:
Congratulations on the upgrading of the cafeteria at Porter Creek Secondary School.
I have a deep interest in the quality and kinds of foods that will be served in your new cafeteria.
School cafeterias have become the focus of considerable public attention in recent years as parents and educators become more aware of the serious health and nutritional issues children are facing.
A new cafeteria presents a wonderful opportunity to embrace some of the exciting changes that are being introduced to institutional cafeterias around the world.
I am a parent of five children — three of whom attend your school — and I am very committed to organic foods and a healthy lifestyle.
I would very much like to see the new cafeteria at your school take a more progressive approach to “cafeteria food.”
I understand this may now be possible because the school administration will have more control of the cafeteria than under the existing contract system.
Similar to other institutional diets offered in hospitals, retirement homes and schools, cafeteria food is generally derived from the Canada Food Guide.
Based on qualitative research of a Health Canada Study, Healthy Eating – Consumer Perspectives (2002), Canadians’ understandings of what the Canada Food Guide promotes as healthy eating is generally to eat a balanced diet.
They know to choose foods from the four basic food groups: grain products, fruits and vegetables, milk products, meat and meat alternatives.
But Canadians are becoming overweight to the point of obesity, and the incidence of diet-related disease is becoming a major concern for Ottawa.
Obesity leads to health problems such as heart disease, arthritis, hypertension, type two diabetes and cancer, all of which are on the rise.
A 2004 National Geographic article ranked Canadians as the second most obese in the world, with an obesity rate of 15 to19 per cent.
Being overweight is becoming the leading cause of preventable death.
Clearly the Canada Food Guide is not working.
Scientific evidence has been suggesting that some of the foods listed in the guide should not be eaten and that other foods should absolutely be included.
It’s also worth noting that the original Canada Food Guide was established under the pressure of strong agri-business lobbies, such as the Cattlemen’s Association and Dairy Association.
The Canada Food Guide is currently under review with a new version to be released in Spring 2006.
But there is no need to wait for the revised food guide to initiate a healthier food program.
Other approaches can meet energy and nutrient needs while reducing the risk of chronic diseases, such as obesity.
I propose the new cafeteria at Porter Creek make healthier foods available to students in by adding organic and vegetarian selections to the menu.
I believe an organic and vegetarian diet is important to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Organic foods are superior for many reasons:
• They are produced without herbicides, pesticides and synthetic fertilizers.
This has many implications, from maintaining soil quality to the health of farm workers, produce sales clerks and consumers.
Although the chemical farming, (which started after the Second World War to find a use for leftover chemicals originally meant for warfare) has increased the farm output, the air pollution and water contamination have dramatically increased as well.
• The environmental cost of cheap food is very high.
• Organic foods are not genetically engineered, are nutritionally superior and taste better.
The simplest test is to eat an organic apple and compare.
• Buying organic supports smaller and family owned businesses that cycle more dollars through their community.
These businesses are often more active in their community, better environmental stewards and more genuinely concerned about the health and wellbeing of their customers.
Vegetarian foods are desirable for many reasons:
• Modern research confirms that individuals who consume a plant-based diet live longer, are healthier and have more stamina.
• According to the Oxford/Cornell China Study, a vegetable-based diet is not only completely safe but much more healthful than an animal-based diet.
• A vegetarian diet can supply the human body with every nutrient essential for growth and optimal health.
An animal-based diet, which is high in fat and low in fibre, has been found to be a major factor in heart disease, stroke, breast, colon and prostate cancers, arthritis, kidney disease, osteoporosis, asthma, gallstones, obesity, and others.
Studies reveal that these diseases can commonly be prevented, consistently controlled and even eliminated by following a low-fat, high-fibre plant-based diet.
Most flesh products are adulterated during the various stages of production with additives such as antibiotics, hormones, tranquilizers, nitrates and other drugs.
Being high on the food chain, animals also contain the highest concentrations of pesticides, herbicides and industrial and sewage pollution residues.
Those who choose to eat a plant-based diet express caring and responsibility towards all creatures, both human and non-human.
Sixty million people die of starvation in the world each year.
If North Americans reduced their intake of meat by just 10 per cent, these people could be adequately fed by the saved livestock grains.
Each year, millions of large animals and billions of birds and fish are slaughtered for meat.
The majority of these creatures are raised intensively by cost-efficient, high-tech agri-business/factory farming methods.
Animals are deprived of their natural environment, and their basic instincts and needs are totally controlled or denied altogether by human manipulation.
Only consumer demand perpetuates this unnecessary misery.
There is a strong correlation between vegetarian food production and the environment.
A plant-based diet puts less stress on our environment and fewer demands on our planet’s resources.
The environmental impact of livestock production is seen mainly in the use of water, land and fossil fuels.
Raising cattle for meat requires many times the land area that is needed for a grain, legume and vegetable-based diet.
Animal production results in constant deforestation and destruction of wildlife habitat.
Most agricultural land today is used for growing crops that are fed directly to livestock.
According to the World Watch Institute, there is no more inefficient way of producing protein food than by cattle production.
It takes 30 to 50 per cent more fossil fuels to produce a meat-centred diet than a non meat-centred diet.
Fossil fuel emissions from livestock production contribute to global climate change.
Waste from livestock feedlots and slaughterhouses pollute our rivers and watersheds.
Huff, I am fully aware the North American diet is, at this time, meat-oriented. It is not easy to change ingrained habits.
One of our daughters says she knows of no more than 10 vegetarians at Porter Creek. It isn’t easy to influence the habits of the mainstream.
However, 10 to 15 years ago it was unthinkable that smoking would be banned from airplanes, public buildings and bars.
When I arrived in Whitehorse in 1984, there were ashtrays located in the bank lineup for smokers’ convenience.
The bank manager used to note that smoking is a basic right and that I should go outside to get my fresh air.
Eventually people do come to their senses.
Change takes time, and it’s probably too soon to introduce a full vegetarian menu at your cafeteria.
However, offering more healthful, organic and vegetarian food choices – perhaps starting with one day a week – will still make a considerable impact.
Restaurants, cafeterias and other institutions are required to purchase inspected factory-farm-produced meat, and most people buy this kind of meat from the grocery store.
But there are healthier, more responsible alternatives to factory farmed meats.
The cafeteria could source meats and poultry that are raised organically, local wild fish and produce.
Local farmers deserve every kind of encouragement.
Their produce is the freshest, and they help minimize the environmental impacts due to reduced fossil fuels for transport.
Until the Green Revolution, which promoted the intense use of chemicals and factory farming, meat was more difficult and expensive to obtain.
Today, the low cost of widely available factory-farmed meat and dairy products by big agri-business interests is the main reason why the heavily subsidized North American diet is so strongly oriented to meat and dairy.
Unfortunately the health and environmental costs of cheap meat and dairy products are extremely high.
I ask you to share my letter with teachers, parents and students to encourage discussion.
I also encourage you to include the subject of food production, preparation and consumption in the school’s educational programs.
Some topics to consider:
• Organic foods, locally produced foods.
• Small-scale family farming compared to the agri-business industry.
• Intensive chemical farming and the health of immigrant farm workers.
• Social justice as it relates to food production and fair trade.
• The food distribution system.
• Greenhouse gases and climate change, and the contributing role of processed foods, packaging and food transport.
Your students and the environment will benefit from these kinds of discussions.
I appreciate your time and look forward to seeing a progressive approach to food and health at the new cafeteria.
If you have any questions or seek any assistance in developing ideas or approaches, as a parent I welcome the opportunity to contribute my knowledge and expertise.
Also, the film Eating will be shown at the Alpine Bakery on Tuesday. Admission by donation. Doors open at 7 p.m. The show starts at 7:30 p.m.