America’s Bootstraps

America’s Bootstraps

Fri 10 Aug 2012

Story by Bonnie Neer

Known for rugged individualism, America was built on independence, personal responsibility and resourcefulness. When you fall, pull yourself up by your bootstraps and get back in the saddle.

But America is discovering the startling reality; we are overweight and in a big way, with over 30 percent of the country obese. Yet the cowboy response has been, “that’s a personal responsibility”. We have enough rugged individualism to fill a country yet don’t look beyond the brim of our hat to see the problem is much vaster than the cowboy can handle alone.

Our foods, stress and habits, culture, agribusiness, government and schools have served the country enough sugar-sweetened and processed foods that soon it will be too big to get on its horse.

Cowboys… Saddle Up!

There is role for cowboys, the ones that are willing to ride herd and take the arrows. Individuals with vision can help our country’s communities evolve its standards to value health and make policies that support and protect the populations’ wellbeing.

Such a story is happening in California. The Superintendent of Novato Unified School District, Shalee Cunningham, has requested Miguel Villarreal, Director of Food and Nutritional Service and Food Revolution Hero to advance his role in wellness education and policy to include not only the students and families, but all school employees, addressing the students’ 31.4 percent obesity and Northern Marin County’s estimated 45-55 percent obesity.

Miguel is no newcomer to taking the reins of change. An early advocate of the Farm to School movement, Miguel collaborated with Marin Organic to make a nationally recognized gleaning program, taking families to the farms for harvest. He has eliminated an average of over 400 pounds of sugar a day from the school menu and created a Sugar Challenge, cycling 100 miles hauling 100 pounds of sugar behind his bike.

This school year he took on the challenge of policy change. Working together with community and allied organizations, they successfully created new policy in the Novato city ordinance, restricting mobile junk food trucks around all public and private schools.

No Rest for a Cowboy

In May, Miguel got on his bike again, this time leading families in a cycling event that taught the importance of breakfast with his Brake 4 Breakfast campaign. Along the route, the bikers paused at a rest stop for healthy, plant-based breakfast provided by the Whole Foods Market in Novato. To experience the spirit behind his Three C’s Events (Cafeteria, Classroom and Community) watch The Kitchen That Teaches Kids to Eat Breakfast.

Just a few weeks later the Novato North Marin PTA Council recognized him with a Very Special Person Award for his decade of efforts in the community as Food Service Director. This show of support along with the astute vision of the Superintendent, spurred the decision to expand the wellness role of the Director of Food and Nutritional Services within the school community.

Are Those Bootstraps Workin’ For You?

America is in a time where leadership is critical and mistakenly criticized as infringing on personal yet currently fragile freedom. Indeed, it is a delicate balance, one where self - responsibility can grow and roam free but on prairies protected by responsible educational and governing institutions. Our nation’s obesity crisis demands that when the knowledge of risks meets responsibility on a public administrator’s desk, health-conscious policy and legislation can become America’s bootstraps.

Yeehaa! Ride’m Cowboys!

About the author: Bonnie Neer is a Consultant, Writer & Speaker for Wellness Education and Initiatives. You can connect with Bonnie at


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