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by Slow Food USA campaign intern Stephanie Miller

Here at Slow Food USA, we started our Time for Lunch campaign because providing kids with local, healthy food at school is a goal worth fighting for. Over the last few months, we’ve been talking with parents, food activists, and food service professionals from all 50 states about the challenges they have faced on the road towards a better National School Lunch Program.

Extreme environments often overlooked in the discussion of local food and nutrition are the frozen deserts, deciduous ranges, and rain forests of Alaska. According to Kerri Burrows, manager of the Alaska Food Coalition, the main food issue in area schools is not nutrition, but supply. Traditionally, native Alaskans have relied on a seasonally variable high-protein diet. But schools still have to comply with the nutritional standards of the National School Lunch Program. This means that most school food is shipped thousands of miles north from the continental United States. When perishable foods arrive, they are less than fresh, and very expensive. To account for these extra costs, school meals in Alaska are subsidized three times as much as the average in the rest of nation. The one thing that isn’t unique about Alaska’s school food is its impact on children’s health: as is the case elsewhere else, childhood obesity is spiraling out of control, especially among indigenous children who rely on a non-native diet full of the processed foods that are popular in the rest of the country.

Kathryn Carl, of Haines, AK, has been working hard to find a solution to this problem. She works with a school in nearby Klukwan, a Chilkat Indian village, to serve locally sensitive lunches. In order to implement the program, the school has opted to not receive lunches from the National School Lunch Program. They serve about 30 meals a day to local children and elderly residents of the small village. The program relies heavily on donations, such as local Halibut and Salmon, as well as a garden where they can grow produce such as potatoes. They are currently trying to raise funds for a greenhouse. Kathryn’s husband makes fresh bread several times a week, since shipped bread often arrives with mold in the middle.

On September 7, Kathryn and other residents of Klukwan will hold an Eat-In as part of Time for Lunch’s National Day of Action. We hope that their example of hard work and ingenuity will inspire discussion in their region and in other local food communities, whatever the local challenges. It’s not always easy to give kids real food at school, but it’s an important and absolutely necessary job: the health of our nation depends on it.