Group of the Week: Santa Monica & Malibu Schools

Group Of The Week: Santa Monica & Malibu Schools

Thu 28 Jul 2011

Story by Harriet Fraser

I came to live in Santa Monica, California, from the UK, three years ago armed with, amongst others, my 'Return of the Naked Chef' recipe book and it's crumpled, used pages. Somehow my cookbooks were my friends when much about this country felt alien.

I had worked for many years as a family doctor in London before California and the move was a complete culture shock, even grocery shopping became a challenge. Coming from the UK where you could get everything at one large supermarket, I quickly realized you couldn’t do that here.

I worked out a system usually involving two to three different shops. For instance, you couldn’t get bread with no added sugar in one store but they had great grass-fed/antibiotic free beef, and at the store with the good bread you couldn’t get diapers and wipes and so on.

Then came school, my son started at Grant Elementary School, Santa Monica, in the fall of 2009. With more contact with school aged children I gradually came to understand more about what children eat here, and what was served at school.

My overriding instinct about raising children (I have two, a boy of seven and a girl of three) is never to underestimate them - and it’s true with food too - give them flavors, be ambitious and you will reap the benefits, their palates will develop and they will turn into fine eaters.

It seemed to me things needed to change. The school menus did not excite me, they scared me, and the added sugar in the drinks, foods, cereals and snacks amounted to dangerous levels. The start of the crusade in our district was hard, I wanted to do lots quickly and soon realized that that was not the way - that there was a lot of defensiveness about how children eat and drink.

I formed a Wellness Committee with two other parents at school and together we started having meetings with the Director of Food Services at our district and I set up our Community Facebook page ‘Santa Monica and Malibu Schools for the Food Revolution’, having been in touch with the Food Revolution team.

At one of their meetings I met Chef Gino Campagna and decided to do something positive at the school around fresh food and healthy eating which would engage our students and get them on board with our campaign. So our Friday Food Fests were born! Gino would come with food prepared for children to make healthy lunches for school that day and the kids would bring their containers and create a pasta/tomato and fruit salad for lunch. They have been such a success; the second event saw 100 students making their own lunch before school.

The children were so happy to be working with these fresh ingredients, and talking to the parents, I knew we had a chance to make some real change.

The first meeting of our facebook group was key to our campaign. Together we decided that our meetings at the district were not reaping results and we had to go to the school board. At that meeting, on June 16th, 3 parents and 2 students spoke to the Board and it was amazing to see that there was real support for our cause.

We had decided to tackle flavored milk alone at this point, to keep our message simple and to build on the work of our neighboring campaigners in Los Angeles USD. We set up a petition-and have had some local press coverage - see here.

The board agreed to formally discuss this issue on July 20th and we took 1,000 signatures. The Board of Education meeting took last Wednesday evening, and they did discuss the milk issue after a presentation by District Staff. After much discussion and back and forth, the board members decided 4-3 to bring the topic back as an action item on August 24th. They will be voting on whether to eliminate flavored milk in Santa Monica and Malibu on that date. This was a great first step!

If you are a Santa Monica resident, teacher/student or parent at the SMMUSD schools please sign our flavored milk petition.

About the author: Harriet Fraser is mum to two kids, advocate for better school food and founder of Santa Monica & Malibu Schools for the Food Revolution group.


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