Thoughts on “Fixing our Food Problem” by Mark Bittman and How Montclair Is Working on It

A Montclair mom packs a healthy school lunch.

In Wednesday’s New York Time’s Op-Ed titled “Fixing Our Food Problem,” by Mark Bittman, he asserts food is our nation’s most pressing health problem. He stresses that “We Must Figure out a way to uninvent this food system, suggesting “patience” and tells us we are “pioneers” in the food movement.

Pointing out it took hundreds of years to make major changes with the abolition movement, women’s and gay rights he reminds us that change will be slow even though it must happen. He says “No major food issue will be resolved in the next ten years.”

He is right, but I am comforted by and optimistic about what I view as significant change happening in our Montclair community with the perseverance of our local “pioneers.”

Since my children have been in the Montclair public school system—a decade—I’ve witnessed and been a part of noticeable improvement. What’s happening now is similar to what has happened in other crises of this magnitude – people with strong convictions are beginning to take action within their own families and in the greater community. As more people acknowledge that there is a problem, others stand up and join the force for change.

Let me give you some examples. My first is with the food service in the public schools.

With processed food, the food service at Bradford School, my children’s elementary school, has been appalling in taste and negative for health. It’s been so terrible that my kids have refused to even get it on pizza day. (Of course I’m glad for that!) But in just the last few years, a group of concerned parents has insisted that the food become healthier and has dedicated itself to making the contracted company serve fresh fruits and vegetables and minimal processed food—a small victory. Today, instead of chicken patties and chicken fingers with fries, you will see an assortment of fresh fruits and vegetables along with more creative menus offering foods like hummus, vegetarian chili and stir fries.

Another example also happening within Bradford School are the initiatives started by parents that affect the greater good of the community and not just their own families. One parent started a gardening program where she plants, nurtures and harvests food with the school children and then prepares the food—roasting kale, potatoes and farm fresh basil from a bountiful garden. It’s so popular that she continues the program even though her children are no longer in the school. Tired of sugar laden junk food, another group of parents created a “Green, Yellow and Red Light” food guide suggesting appropriate foods for parents to serve as classroom snacks, while discouraging other high sodium and sugar foods. This guide has helped educate teachers and parents in making choices to make the classroom healthier.

A final example of change I see within my community is the number of people who have embraced farm fresh foods, supporting local agriculture. The demand for memberships in food coops and CSA’s seems to have pushed our community to triple its supply from local farmers. Additionally, the Montclair Farmer’s Market is packed on Saturdays with long lines of people buying organic meats and locally grown produce. Finally, there are also many more families (mine included) who recognize the value of growing some of their own food, not just for taste but for teaching our children where and how food is produced.

I’m hopeful that our town and elementary school is a microcosm of what’s happening in other forward thinking communities that recognize the need for our food system to change. It’s happening as Bittman says and I’m optimistic that these efforts will push our country to reexamine the failing system Bittman describes, the “hyper-industrial agriculture, the kind that uses 10 times as much energy as it produces.” Our small steps are actually quite big in helping to “uninvent this food system” that Bittman has identified. Patience is not my greatest virtue so I’m hoping more people join forces in facilitating change.

I’d love to know if and where you see change happening in our Montclair and surrounding community. Please share your thoughts.

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