Eat Well to Be Well: Rachael’s Op-Ed Published in Newspapers Nationwide

August 26, 2010  • 

Speaking out on behalf of children across America, Rachael’s recent Op-Ed submission makes the case for funding child nutrition programs and has inspired readers nationwide to take action for child nutrition.

The text of Eat Well to Be Well, as presented in the Philadelphia Daily News, is below:

For most people, "hunger" is a metaphor for wants rather than needs. We hunger for more time, more money, more of what the next guy has. Even in reference to food, the term becomes hyperbolic.

If we go more than five or six hours in any day without a meal, we declare, "I’m starving!" – just before we bite into our supersized sandwiches.

Imagine the physical and emotional distress of true hunger. Now imagine suffering that pain as a child. An empty stomach makes children feel empty emotionally, overlooked and forgotten. Even worse, it stunts their growth, harms their test scores, spurs behavioral problems and increases school-nurse visits.

Nearly 17 million American children struggle against hunger. For them, school food programs are sometimes the only access they have to food. At the same time, one in three American kids is overweight or suffering from childhood obesity because their families simply can’t afford fresh, nutritious foods. School food is one of the only level playing fields we have to provide good nutrition to all our kids.

Every five years or so, Congress reviews and revises the Child Nutrition Act through a process known as Child Nutrition Reauthorization (CNR).

This process sets rules and funding levels for the major school lunch and other food programs, including the school lunch program, school breakfast program, summer food service program, child and adult care food program and a special supplemental nutrition program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC). Rather than passing a new bill last year when the old one expired, Congress passed a one-year extension, set to expire at the end of September.

To truly end child hunger and reduce obesity, nutrition advocates estimate that a new bill would need an additional $4 billion a year. That would go to improving meal quality by boosting reimbursement rates and increasing the number of kids fed. President Obama proposed a significant down payment toward this goal, requesting an extra $1 billion a year in his budget for CNR improvements.

Versions of a new child nutrition bill have passed the relevant committees in both the House and Senate. Although both bills would increase meal reimbursements and expand access to food programs to some extent, neither meets the president’s proposed $1 billion a year. And, as children across the country are returning to school, we also run the real risk that Congress will end its session before passing a bill at all.

What can you do? What can we do? The answer: A lot.

For starters, we can join the first lady in her Let’s Move campaign, and join our president in his commitment to ending childhood hunger by 2015. Call your state’s U.S. senators and your representative in the U.S. House and tell them to pass – and adequately fund – a child nutrition bill immediately.

The Senate bill is the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 (S.3307); the House bill is the Improving Nutrition for America’s Children Act of 2010 (H.R. 5504).

Any child nutrition bill that passes will continue the school lunch and breakfast programs, as well as other vital efforts, such as the WIC program, which provides special packages of healthy food to low-income pregnant women and their small children. But a truly strong and adequately funded bill would significantly increase the number of children receiving meals at school, during the summer and in after-school programs, as well as significantly improve the nutritional quality of those meals.

Our communities want and welcome our support as active citizens. In my own community, Mayor Bloomberg and the Mayor’s Fund in New York City have welcomed Yum-o! (my nonprofit that empowers kids and their families to have a healthy relationship with food and cooking) as a partner in our public school programs, providing support from the cafeteria to school gardens.

My grandfather Emmanuel Scuderi suffered all his life from Type 1 diabetes, the causes of which are believed to be environmental and genetic. He battled it with a good, balanced Mediterranean diet and as much physical exercise as his body could bear.

As I was fortunate enough to have shared a home with him as a small girl, I benefited by developing a palate similar to his: fish, kale, olive oil, garden vegetables and, oh, the tomatoes!

It would have boggled his mind and broken his food-and-family-loving heart to see fully a third of this country’s children at risk of or suffering from Type 2 diabetes, which is largely preventable with a healthy diet and regular exercise.

Child hunger and malnutrition in the world’s wealthiest nation is morally unacceptable.

The U.S. economy loses at least $28 billion a year due to poor school performance and long-term health-care spending due to poor child nutrition. We can all do the math: Pay now or pay a much greater price in every sense later.

I have a dog – no human kids. But I care about this issue because our children are our collective investment in the future.

Sadly, when we peer into a crystal ball, we can see only a dark horizon if we do not radically change our ways, fast. As a nation, we need to create a new "golden rule" if we are to ensure a healthy future in every way possible. The rule: You have to eat well to be well – period.