Cape Town, South Africa

Cape Town, South Africa
Serving it up at Manenberg Primary!

Friday, November 25, 2016

The Raven Master ... and Beef Eaters? United Kingdom

Happy Thanksgiving, all! And I suppose, Happy Black Friday? Even though the UK doesn’t celebrate Thanksgiving, Black Friday has managed to infiltrate its calendar.

[My best friend's aunt lives in London, and we had a hearty Thanksgiving feast!]

I have been pleasantly overwhelmed by the largeness and beauty of London. It is a gorgeous city with seemingly endless traditions (Ever heard why there is a Raven Master - or Beef eaters - in the Tower of London?), historical gems, and amazing architecture.

[The Natural History Museum - filled with many fossils, geological specimens, and third grade classes.]

[Pretty regal Stock Exchange, eh?]

With Twinings tea in hand and a tissue box nearby (I am happily getting over a cold), I am diving into The UK’s, or more appropriately, England’s school dinners.

A short - yet long - history of England’s school lunch program

England has had the longest running school lunch program in Europe, becoming statutory law in the 1940s. However, school meals date back to 1879, where some primary schools in Manchester served free meals to poor children.  

The British school lunch program, like the United State’s program, did not emerge from the ethical need to feed children in poverty. While the American program served as an economic stimulus for farmers (check it out in my earlier post here), the British program was created to produce stronger soldiers. Generally, there were significant disparities in health and wellness in England in the 19th century; public infrastructure such as roads, clean water facilities, and access to nutritious foods was wholly inadequate. In 1901, Seebohm Rowntree's survey of working class families in York found that “almost half of the wage-earning population of the city could not afford enough food to keep them 'physically efficient.”'

[Hungry lil' ones in the UK; picture from The National ArchivesSchool Dinners]

As England suited up to fight in the 1899 Boer Wars, the military realized that one-third of all young men were too small or undernourished to serve. Yikes.

[Can you imagine this guy carrying a rifle?]

To solve this military-sized problem, the 1921 Education Act set up the frame for a  lunch program and set the eligibility standards for free meals. The government significantly limited the impact of this program, though. Spending limits were set to offset the costs of labor strikes that increased the cost of school lunches, so not all malnourished children received a meal. In 1936, 2.7 percent of school children got free meals.

World War II
While schools lunches only reached 2.7 percent of children in 1936, the Second World War catapulted the program into national importance. With the Boer Wars fiasco in the backdrop, school meals were viewed as fundamental to the health of England’s children, and by extension, future military. School meals became statutory law in the 1944 Education Act (prior to 1944, school meals were allowed but not required) and funding was increased. By 1945, one-third of the entire school population was fed (and 14 percent of meals were free).  

[In addition to "fortifying" their children, another reason for increased access is that women were entering the workforce. Since women were not home to cook, school lunches filled this gap while women filled factories.]

Entering the modern era of school lunches: The rollbacks to the school lunch programs
The school lunch program stayed largely the same until Margaret Thatcher and the Conservative Party came into power. Margaret Thatcher was elected Prime Minister of the United Kingdom in 1979, also elected on the premise that she would cut taxes and decrease government spending. What was the first program to be slashed? The school lunch program and the school milk subsidy, which had provided free milk to all children. Thatcher was labeled as “Thatcher Thatcher, Milk Snatcher!” for her steep cuts in public spending.

The biggest thing impact on the NSLP during the Thatcher administration was the Education Act of 1980, which withdrew the minimum nutrition requirement. This, coupled with hiring private tenders to provide the food, allowed competitive private companies swoop in and sell low-quality, fast food to children. Since there were no nutrition standards, the companies had no impetus to sell wholesome, quality foods.

I cannot explain how impactful this was. Even though there was food rationing in 1950 due to insufficient funding (Hello, WWII!), children in 1950 had healthier diets than children in the 1990s. School lunches were loaded with sugars, salt, and fat while stripping the food of fruits, vegetables, and nutrients necessary for child development.  

The nutritional deficiency of school lunches could not have come at a worse time, either! During the 1980s and 90s, technology (TV, computers) became incredibly mainstream, and children became more sedentary. Furthermore, the introduction of the microwave and freezer also led to less home-cooked meals - and more fast food.

Study after study in the 1990s and early 2000s found that children were not getting enough healthy foods in their diets. Obesity doubled from 1980 to 2000. That’s really bad.

Jamie Oliver to save the day!
Jamie Oliver … I think he should be knighted for his important efforts to fix school meals. As I mentioned in my earlier post, Jamie started calling for healthier school meals in the early 2000s. Though it took a TV show, rallying public support, gathering petitions, Jamie succeeded in prompting government action.

And without giving too much away on the contemporary status of the school lunch program (I will talk about that for the next few weeks), school lunches have vastly improved since the 1990s. But where are they now? Stay tuned, that’s coming soon!

[Every day, an artist comes out to create a sand "sculpture!"]

[The Christmas holiday season is underway in London!!]

Monday, November 21, 2016

A political post: What Trump could mean for the National School Lunch Program

I know, I heard your audible groan, “another post about the presidential election?” If you’re like me, I was incredibly invested in the presidential election - gobbling up political podcasts, watching the polls, watching the Hillary Shimmy on repeat. After seeing the results, I was extremely distressed and apathetic towards anything politics-related. However, channeling my inner-Elizabeth Warren, I am begrudgingly ready to move forward and give president-elect Trump a chance to advocate for the people.

Given the election news, I’ve decided to do a post on the National School Lunch Program and Trump.

“Trumped Up Trickle Down Economics” - Trump and the NSLP

Trump did not specifically reference the NSLP on the campaign trail, but several of his comments on other policies directly relate and should cause worry.

1. First, as a major proponent for deregulation, Trump has proposed rolling back safety regulations at the FDA. Trump specifically mentioned removing the FDA Food Police, which monitors food production, safety, quality, and transportation. Deregulating the FDA could greatly impact the food standards of the NSLP, specifically those achieved by the Michelle Obama administration. Lowering food standards opens cafeterias to more processed foods, soft drinks, and lower quality produce.

Donald Trump is a huge fan of fast food. Why? He believes it has the highest food safety standards.

2. Lowering taxes for the wealthy was one of the major selling points for the Trump campaign. Though Trump never said where he would make up the money lost from decreased tax revenues, there is a historical example of this same action that led to the gutting of the British School Lunch Program.

Margaret Thatcher was elected Prime Minister of the United Kingdom in 1979, also elected on the premise that she would cut taxes and decrease government spending (Her party, the Conservative Party, holds similar ideological premises as the Republican party does today). What was the first program to be slashed? The school lunch program and the school milk subsidy, which had provided free milk to all children. Thatcher was labeled as “Thatcher Thatcher, Milk Snatcher!” for her steep cuts in public spending. While in office, she also abolished the minimum nutrition standards (sound like someone I just mentioned above?), allowing competitive private companies swoop in and sell low-quality, fast food to children.

While this may not happen in Trump’s presidency, it isn’t impossible nor unlikely. Especially since this happened in the UK - the European country with the most similar disparities in wealth and levels of childhood obesity - my fingers are crossed this won’t happen in the United States.

3. A Republican-led government will likely result in many social services and social welfare programs being drawn back. This is no surprise, as the conservative ideology calls for smaller government. In 2017, Congress will review and amend the Child Nutrition Reauthorization, which obviously relates to the NSLP. Republicans have already highlighted parts of the NSLP they want to roll back: Smart Snacks, the ban on certain foods, etc. They have also proposed a three-state block grant pilot, which is a complicated term that refers to funding. Simply, the federal government will decrease its investments in the NSLP.

Just reelected as Speaker of the House, we'll see what Paul Ryan and the Republicans have in store for us.

So, is the NSLP at risk for cuts in funding, and possibly for lower nutrition standards? Yes. Am I worried? No. I have such confidence and faith in Michelle Obama’s skills in protecting her efforts that have positively impacted millions of children.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Starting off the UK: Jamie Oliver

I have been incredibly excited to go to the United Kingdom to look at school lunches. Why? Because they have seen the largest shifts in quality, care, and awareness over the last decade.

While he may not be the sole reason for the improvements to school meals, called "school dinners" the UK, Jamie Oliver has started a revolution in school canteens. To set the stage for the upcoming weeks, I wanted to start by posting two of Jamie Oliver's videos - check them out, they are inspiring, fun, and enlightening to watch:

Jamie Oliver's TED Talk

Ever heard of the Turkey Twizzler? Now you will have!

Syrian Refugee Crisis

G’Day everyone!

I hope this message finds you well. I am in Belgrade, Serbia, and am loving this city! It has character, I’m not sure how else to describe it. The public art and graffiti, the imperfect buildings and structures, the hardy food is simply wonderful.

[I’ve been shopping almost exclusively at one of the many farmer’s markets in Belgrade, Zeleni Venac. Here is a picture of a soup that I made from all locally-sourced produce. Nothing beats homemade chicken and rice soup!]

[Or even my breakfast this morning, which consisted of cabbage, apples, and eggplant!]

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I was not intending to be in Serbia. And, unfortunately, there is no established Serbian school lunch program to look into. The school day excludes the lunch hour - children have school in the morning and go home to eat lunch, or have school in the afternoon (after the lunch hour). Thus, there is no school lunch program.

Despite not having a school lunch program, Belgrade has introduced me to something I haven’t encountered yet in my travels (which spans 13 countries); this is the first city that I have tangibly seen Syrian refugees waiting for relocation to other parts of Europe. When I stepped off of the train, I was astounded by the number of people waiting in parks and other public areas. Aid workers have told me that currently there are 1,200 Syrians in Belgrade who are waiting to be placed in a camp (either inside or outside of Serbia) or program. So, instead of posting about school lunch, I thought I would share a summary of the refugee crisis, and post a link if you’re willing to donate to the refugees currently in Serbia.

*Before I talk about the Syrian conflict, it is important to note that Syrians are not the only ethnic group fleeing persecution from their home countries. People from Afghanistan, Albania, Eritrea, Iraq, Kosovo, Nigeria, Pakistan, and other countries account for over a half million refugees currently in transport.

The Syrian Civil War and Serbia
I cannot do the history of the Syrian conflict justice, so please see BBC News’ history of the conflict. Please read that article.

The Syrian conflict has spanned over five years, and has a death toll of 300,000 to 500,000 people. The conflict has origins back in the Arab Spring, when people sought democracy (via demonstrations that were crushed by the government) and the resignation of President Bashar al-Assad.

Almost 5 million people have fled Syria, 6.5 million have been internally displaced inside Syria. Due to its close proximity to the Middle East, Serbia has faced the brunt of the refugees following the “Balkan route” out of Syria.

The Balkan route to the EU was less well-known than other routes, but quickly gained popularity; in 2012, 6,390 people crossed through this route, according to the EU frontier agency Frontex. In 2013, the number had risen to almost 20,000, and in 2014 over 43,000 were came this way. Although the route was effectively closed in March 2015 when the European Union and Turkey reached a deal to halt the flow of refugees to Europe, many people continue to make the treacherous journey, usually with the help of human smugglers.

The buildup of refugees in Serbia was exacerbated when Hungary closed its borders in September 2015 and passed a policy to detain and expel any refugee or migrant found within eight kilometres of the border without a legal process.

Serbia has been welcoming to refugees, with President Aleksander Vucic saying, ““Refugees are safe and welcome here. Some will stay, although we know they want to go to more developed countries. If they want to stay, we have no problem – these are good, hard-working people.” However, as hundreds of thousands continue to pour into the country, this sentiment may have soured.

Earlier in the year, one of the largest refugee centers in Belgrade was demolished to make way for a redevelopment project. Furthermore, the Serbian government issued a ban last week stating that non-profits are no longer able to distribute resources (food, clothing, etc) to refugees. This is an attempt to move the 1,200+ refugees in Belgrade outside of the city. The problem? There's nowhere to go.

If you would like to support the refugees specifically in Serbia, you can donate here:

Best, Erin

PS I'm a billionaire! Back in 1993, when the Serbian dinar (the Serbian currency) was incredibly volatile due to the Yugoslavian Wars, the biggest bill printed was for 500 billion dinar! It could be worth heaps in the morning, but nothing in the evening. But, hey, being a billionaire at age 22 isn't too bad.