Thoughts from the Editors: Advocating for Healthy Choice in School


Thoughts from the Editors Advocating for Healthy Choice in School Curricula and Food Programs

Peggy Albers, Caitlin McMunn Dooley, Amy Seely Flint, Teri Holbrook, and Laura May

O ver the past several decades, the impact of healthy eating and lifestyles on longev ity has come to the foreground of popular interest. This interest has now filtered into schools; activists, celebrity and local chefs, district nutri tionists, educators, and others have become instru mental in shaping curriculum around the issue of the food that children consume, and issues of health that accompany it. From school lunches to snack and beverage choices, from chef-to-school programs to school gardens, educators across this country are taking a critical stance toward the qual ity of food children eat. No longer is the topic of food relegated solely to school district nutrition ists and those working in school kitchens; food has become central in school curricula, including the language arts, and in this issue, it is our topic for

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According to the Centers for Disease Control (2012), child obesity has more than tripled in the past 30 years. The number of children between the ages of 6 and 11 who were considered obese increased from 7% in 1980 to 20% in 2008, and one-third of those children in 2008 were overweight or obese due to caloric imbalance associated with environmental, behavioral, and/or genetic factors ( Funded in part by The National School Lunch Pro gram (NSLP) with its annual budget of $9.5 billion, schools play a significant role in the healthy living of children. The NSLP provides meals for over 31 million children and is required to follow the nutri tional recommendations of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. However, according to Chandler (2011), as of 2011, fewer than one-third of the school lunches offered meet the required restriction on saturated fat content. A number of people have created programs and developed curricula that focus on food choices, fat content of school menus, and the promotion of healthier dietary choices. Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver’s campaigns, called “Feed Me Better” and “Food Revolution,” were television series that fol lowed Oliver as he attempted to make changes to school lunch programs in Britain and in the US, respectively, to help to fight obesity and change children’s eating habits in order for them to live healthier and longer lives. Ann Cooper, called the “Renegade Lunch Lady,” moved from being a fine dining chef to working with the lunch program in Berkeley Unified School District to improve school lunch programs. First Lady Michelle Obama has initiated efforts to focus attention on health ful eating by planting and maintaining a garden at the White House and developing “Let’s Move,” a national organization devoted to eliminating child obesity. Such efforts have snowballed into a number of school projects that connect curricula in schools to healthy eating and lifestyles. One such program, Baltimore’s Great Kids Farm, offers children hands-on experiences at this working farm in areas of healthy eating, sustainable agriculture, and the natural sciences (http://www The Chefs Move to Schools program (http://healthymeals.nal invites chefs from local restaurants to teach children about food prep aration, help them build confidence about cook ing, and encourage inquiry into food products and choices with hands-on cooking experiences. The

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Advocating for Healthy Choice



T H o u g H T S F ro M T H E E D i To r S | Advocating for Healthy Choice famed Edible Schoolyard at Martin Luther King Middle School in Berkeley, California, founded 16 years ago by nationally known chef Alice Waters (, features a garden and a teaching kitchen. Over the years, these initial adventures have developed into schoolwide curricula that have children working to clear trees and bushes for cisterns as they plant, maintain, and harvest over 100 varieties of seasonal vegeta bles, herbs, vines, berries, flowers, and fruit trees. National farm-to-school programs (http://www have sprung up, all with a mis sion to link nutrition in K–12 schools to curricula by connecting them with local farms, which in turn support local and regional farmers. Within the past decade, more and more schools have connected with local farmers, chefs, and nutritionists to make significant changes in the quality of school lunches. This themed issue of Language Arts, “Literate Lunch,” provides insights into how educators have designed and developed action projects within lan guage arts curricula to improve the academic and gastronomical welfare of children. Lynn Gatto’s piece, “‘Lunch Is Gross’: Gaining Access to Pow erful Literacies,” describes an ethnographic and curricular investigation—and subsequent social action—into the quality of one school’s lunch pro gram. Across three years, students at this school studied school lunches in the district, initiated (and made political) efforts to make visible the unhealthy lunches at their school, and lobbied to have better and healthier school choices. In “Growing Language Awareness in the Class room Garden,” Patricia Paugh and Mary Moran col laboratively studied a third-grade community gar dening and urban farming curriculum. Their goal was to support an existing classroom culture that valued students’ ownership of their learning and their development of a sense of literacy as a social practice for contributing to community and society, while also finding pathways for explicit academic language instruction. Will Summers’s narrative, “Tomatoes, Cucumbers, and Salad Tag: A Farmer Goes to School,” describes how he developed a school farm and a K–8 curricula based upon food, agriculture, and sustainability. Our departments also highlight the significance of curricula to support children’s knowledge of and engagement with school gardens, lunches, the natu ral environment, and environmental issues, with the purpose of promoting sustainable and healthy liv ing. Our Research and Policy department addresses the relationship of learning in school to food inse curity and nutrition and to dental health—windows into the overall condition of children’s bodies and wellness. Our Professional Books department reviews three books that realistically and critically consider the “greening” of literacy learning in class rooms, especially focusing on classroom strategies that support teachers’ and students’ ability to affect change. Our “Conversation Currents” features Season 6 Top Chef finalist Kevin Gillespie, owner and head chef of Gunshow, a restaurant in Atlanta, Georgia, who relates the significance of food to a language arts program, while also highlighting the importance of food and family. This issue’s Children’s Literature department is authored by the 2012 Notable Children’s Books in the Language Arts committee who read, evaluated, and selected 30 books for grades K–8 that exem plify outstanding literature for use in language arts classrooms. This collection highlights the many and varied uses of language—to imagine new and different experiences, to preserve and learn from diverse cultural heritages, to question personal thoughts and feelings, to take the perspective of others, and to take action on behalf of issues and people that matter to them. We hope this issue will engage you in consider ing projects and resources for healthy, sustainable living through the language arts.


Centers for Disease Control. (2012). Child obesity facts. Retrieved on July 14, 2012, from healthyyouth/obesity/facts.htm. Chandler, S. (2011). Fat in school lunches. Retrieved on July 14, 2012, from article/363662-fat-in-school-lunches/.

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