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by Charity Kenyon, Reana Kovalcik, Margaret Read, Cynthia Walters, and Ed Yowell

Our nation’s federal child nutrition programs — School Food (National School Lunch and Breakfast Programs and Summer Meals), WIC  (Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children), and CACFP (Child and Adult Care Food Program) — have served our children for more than half a century. By partnering with states and local jurisdictions, these programs help provide healthy food and nutrition for more than 35,000,000 children and infants each year, including seven billion school meals! These programs, vital to the physical health, well-being, and education readiness of our children, are made possible by a single piece of legislation, the Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act (CNR). If programs like Farm to School, CACFP, and WIC are important to you and your community, take action by joining the fight for a Good, Clean, and Fair CNR. You can help now by contacting your Congress Members! It’s easy! See how below.

On the Child Nutrition Reauthorization

Periodically, via the CNR, Congress extends and amends these important nutrition programs. The previous CNR, the science-based Healthy and Hunger-Free Kids Act (HHFKA) of 2010 was a landmark law that significantly expanded school meal access to low-income children and improved the nutrition of school meals — more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and less salt. Presently, almost all schools meet HHFKA standards — school meal participation rates have increased, and food costs and plate waste have not. Despite this historic success, the last Congress and the present Administration rolled-back HHFKA nutrition advances, particularly regarding whole grains and salt.

The new CNR legislative process, that is cranking up in Congress now, affords our network the opportunity to advocate for child nutrition programs that are Good, Clean, and Fair with Equity, Inclusion, and Justice for All. We will call on Congress to:

  • restore and strengthen HHFKA nutrition standards
  • further expand children’s access to nutritious meals
  • make federally sponsored meals more climate friendly
  • increase child nutrition program equity and inclusion

Priorities for a CNR That is Good, Clean and Fair for All

These four, high-level, CNR priorities are rooted solidly in our beliefs. Simply, they support more equitable access to good, healthful, nutritious, climate friendly food for more of our nation’s children.

PRIORITY ONE: END FOOD INSECURITY

The most fundamental resource that every child needs to learn is an adequate and healthy diet. School meals, summer meals, and meals in childcare and afterschool settings are a significant part of children’s diets – for many, nearly half of their daily food requirements.  The next CNR must increase access to federally funded, good nutrition-assured, meals for all children, regardless of their ability to pay. This is critical for the 6.5 to 7 million children who live in “food-insecure” households. Most importantly, Congress must begin moving towards free school meals for all our children by 2021.

PRIORITY TWO: ENSURE ACCESS TO HIGH QUALITY, NUTRITIOUS, CLIMATE FRIENDLY FOOD

Many children live in households with limited access to fresh, healthy, nutritious food.  Food production, especially industrial scale livestock production, is responsible for about a fifth of greenhouse-gas emissions, contributing greatly to climate change. Despite rollbacks, HHFKA nutrition standards have been implemented successfully by most School Food Authorities (SFAs – local school meal program operators). Climate friendly school food that emphasizes low-carbon, plant-based, and plant-forward options in the seven billion school meals served annually can deliver compelling health and environmental benefits – even small menu changes cumulatively can make a great difference. Most importantly, the next CNR must restore the important nutrition gains made by HHFKA and drive new initiatives to enhance the climate friendliness of federally sponsored child nutrition.

PRIORITY THREE: SUPPORT EFFECTIVE NUTRITION EDUCATION

Poor food options and choices contribute to health inequity in many communities, including vastly different rates of diet-related disease and death. Food production contributes massively to climate change. Effective good food education can contribute to the future health and well-being of communities and a healthier planet. The next CNR must ensure that child nutrition programs provide experiential education for children to learn good dietary habits that will support their health and well-being for life and the health of the planet for future generations.

PRIORITY FOUR: SUPPORT LOCAL FARM AND FOOD ECONOMIES

Federally funded food programs – School Lunch, School Breakfast, Summer Food, WIC, and CACFP – bring billions of federal dollars to states and local jurisdictions. The next CNR must ensure that local and regional farm to school programs are expanded and better support equitable and inclusive farm and food economies, contributing to vibrant rural communities, and that vulnerable children, and their families, are empowered to make informed food choices that are good for them, local and regional producers, and the planet.

What’s Next?

The new CNR is years behind schedule – it should have happened in 2015. Instead, it languished because a GOP Freedom Caucus dominated House of Representatives came up with a CNR, bent on seriously degrading the programs, that could not be reconciled with a more reasoned and supportive Senate bill.

What’s different now? We have a new Congress with a Democratic majority in the House of Representatives, significantly improving the prognosis for a bi-partisan bill that will be better for our children’s health and well-being, the planet, and those who work to produce our food. But it won’t be easy, or fast. However, our network can help a good CNR become law. Our CNR Priorities, rolled out at Slow Food Nations, will be the basis of our advocacy. In the coming months, you – Governors, Working Group Chairs, Leaders, members, and supporters – will hear from us, calling on you to take action in this matter so important to our children.

In the meantime, as Congress begins to consider the next CNR, legislators, working with advocates, create “marker” bills that address specific elements of what the full bill might include. Presently, Slow Food USA supports these important markers that point the way to a Good, Clean, and Fair CNR:

  • Farm-to-School Act of 2019 (S.2026/H.R.3562) that would increase annual funding, expand access, advance equitable farmer participation, and increase access by tribal schools to traditional foods, especially from local producers. – Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT), David Perdue (R-GA), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), and Susan Collins (R-ME) and Representatives Marcia Fudge (D-OH) and Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE).
  • Kids Eat Local Act (S.1817 and H.R.3220) that would simplify the purchase of locally grown, raised, and caught food. – Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Susan Collins (R-ME) and Representatives Chellie Pingree (D-ME) and Josh Harder (R-NE).
  • No Shame at School Act of 2019 (S.1119/H.R.2311) that would prohibit schools from stigmatizing children who cannot pay for their school meals. – Senator Tina Smith (D-MN) and Representative Ilhan Omar (D-MN).
  • Stop Child Summer Hunger Act of 2019 (S.1941/H.R.3378) that would provide expanded summer nutrition assistance to eligible children. – Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) and Representative Susan Davis (D-CA).
  • Summer Meals Act of 2019 (S.1908/H.R.2818) that would expand eligibility and extend access to summer meals in underserved areas. – Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Representatives Don Young (R-AK) and Rick Larsen (D-WA).
  • Closing the College Hunger Gap Act (S.TBA/H.R. TBA) that would require the collection of data on college campus food and housing insecurity and connect eligible students with SNAP and other resources to combat food insecurity. – Senators Chris Murphy (D-CT), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Representatives Jahana Hayes (D-CT) and Marcia Fudge (D-OH).

You Can Help Now!

Call or e-mail your Members of Congress; if they sponsored the markers, thank them. If they did not, ask them to sign on in support of a Good, Clean, and Fair CNR by sponsoring these bills. You can find your Congress Members’ contact information: House reps and Senate reps.

And, this is easy, you personally can support the Farm-to-School Act and the Kids Eat Local Act by just signing this petition.

{{ download(6325, {“soft”: 1, “label”:”Read Slow Food USA’s letter to key Congressional Leaders”,”title”:”CNR Priorities Letter”}) }} outlining our priorities for a CNR that supports more equitable access to good, healthful, nutritious, climate friendly food for more of our nation’s children.

For more information, contact Isabella Brafman at isabella.b@slowfoodusa.org