Oregonians Fail to Rally Around Local Food Preferences
Are farm-to-school initiatives a response to parents’ and students’ demand for local food? This program coordinator in the Oregon Department of Education doesn’t seem to think so. In her interview with the Oregonian, she talks about local food as if it were something constituents had to be cajoled into accepting. Regarding students, she said, “We’re going to […] educate students to support those changes in the cafeteria,” implying that students don’t support the changes now and wouldn’t come to support them on their own, even once the new policies are established. This reminds me of the coaching some parents give little kids during holidays: “Tell Grandma how nice the toy is and that you like it soooo much!” If local food preferences bring superior fare to cafeterias, as advocates claim, students should welcome the tastier meals without explicit instructions.
Perhaps their parents are more enthusiastic? From the program coordinator’s description, I don’t think so. She suggests that parents, too, require a lot of education. When asked whether parents are learning about local food, she responds:
Not as much as they could be or should be. […] They need to go to school lunch and share it with their kids […] And then parents and caregivers, if they could purchase, serve and talk about Oregon foods with their family, phenomenal.
She would love it if parents could do those things, meaning that they aren’t doing them already. The parents have to be won over. It’s a far cry from, “They are educating me with their phone calls and petitions begging for more local food” — the reply I would expect if local food preferences really were implemented at the behest of parents.
I don’t blame Oregonians for their indifference. After all, as the program coordinator correctly states, local foods are not necessarily healthier than foods from other places. Parents might be more supportive if schools focused on procuring nutritional meals, without regard to locality.
One policy I especially hope Oregon will abandon is the preference that the program coordinator affirms for canned and frozen foods from local sources. Local canned and frozen foods have no nutritional advantage over canned and frozen foods from far away; you can’t argue that one is fresher than the other.