Thursday, December 1, 2011

Reasons to Care: Parent’s Edition

Becoming a Legislative Advocate for Your Child’s School

By Tanaya Gable

In the month of November, the media was buzzing about the recent plan of action surrounding the agriculture appropriations bill; a bill that, essentially, made it easier to count pizza sauce as a serving of vegetables. The decision immediately drew widespread outrage from consumer advocates to critics and on to parents, who saw “pizza is a vegetable” to be bizarre.

As time went on, the public learned more about the agriculture appropriations bill and discovered that the fight was less about serving pizza and more about the actual tomato paste.  Specifically, the fight about how a specific amount of the product could count as one serving of vegetables.  Congress blocking change to the bill essentially meant that tomato paste would continue to receive credit as a serving of vegetables, thus, leaving one-eighth of a cup to be counted as something about four times larger.

This makes it easier, and cheaper, for pizza manufacturers to produce a product that includes a serving of vegetables. But it by no means declares the pizza itself a vegetable. Schools lunches are still measured by federal regulations for calories (no more than one-third of daily recommended value) and fat content (less than 30 percent of the meal), which limits how much pizza students can be served. A cafeteria worker can’t just pile a slice of pizza on a plate and say she’s serving salad.

Making the Connection

So what’s all the fuss about right? Still wondering how this concerns you? Draw your attention back to the initial controversy. Whether you agree that a smaller serving of tomato paste has equal footing with a half-cup of other fruits and vegetables, whether you believe Congress is ridiculous for their decision, or even if you had never even heard about the story, if you are a parent, you have a voice. Your opinion counts and you have the right to be involved whenever your children are involved. This goes for issues in your community and issues that are nationwide. If you find yourself completely disapproving of a piece of legislation passed, affecting your child, would you even know how to take action?

Where Should I Begin?

Your state and federal legislators want to hear from you. Personal letters make a wonderful impact but that is not to dismiss emails, phone calls and even online advocacy. When contacting officials it is best to have a specific piece of legislation or issue to address. It also helps to have a strong number of followers and supporters who share the same ideas about what you are addressing and seek to change as well. Check out the PTA at your child’s school. Here you may find coordinators who work to organize campaigns when a particular bill begins to draw heavy attention, or perhaps you can organize a campaign.

When writing legislators remember to clearly state your purpose, use specific examples and keep your letter concise. More information on how to take legislative action can be found in In Reach’s first ever soon-to-be-released Advocacy Toolkit!

A Step Further: Finding a Cause to Support

Apart from contacting your local and state representatives it is also important to find a cause that supports your vision. In matters concerning what is served in your child’s school cafeteria, there are several support groups and organizations that can help open doors for you and your family. Take the National Farm to School Network, for example. This organization gives you the opportunity to join ranks with millions of other Americans who are in support of bills that wish to restore the right of all children to access good food in school; that educate and inform communities about healthy food and its impact on the wellbeing of children; and that connect farmers, school districts, food service companies, and great ideas to the food system delivering school lunch.

In addition to finding support, familiarize yourself with local and state policy, as well as national legislation. Stay on top of what occurs in your county and explore how national policy decision trickles down into your neighborhood.

Still wondering why you should care? Check out the links below to get a jumpstart.
The Community Food Service Coalition
Maryland's Jane Lawton Farm-to-School Program
National School Lunch Program

Other Sources:
The Washington Post
The Inside Scoop SF