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<< News >>

Environmental News

"EARTH TALK"

From the Editors of E / The Environmental Magazine

THIS WEEK'S COLUMN

Dear EarthTalk: What are the new nutrition standards for school lunches that have some students boycotting their cafeterias and discarding the food?
—Melissa Makowsky, Trenton, NJ

New school meal standards hope to sway American children away from unhealthy foods, which have led to 32 percent being overweight and 17 percent obese. Whole-grains, beans and dark green and orange vegetables now replace things like pizza and French fries as staples in schools that follow the program.

Photo © iStockPhoto/Thinkstock

Indeed, some 31 million American kids participating in the federally supported National School Lunch Program have been getting more whole grains, beans, fruits and vegetables in their diets—whether they like it or not. The change is due to new school meal standards unveiled by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) last January, per the order of 2010’s Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. The new standards are based on the Institute of Medicine’s science-based recommendations, and are the first upgrade to nutritional standards for school meals since 1995 when low- and no-fat foods were all the rage.

The non-profit Environmental Working Group (EWG) believes the new standards represent an important milestone in efforts to improve the dietary habits and health of increasingly obese American kids. “Schools’ misguided reliance on processed foods for speedy, low-labor cost production, industry’s $1.6 billion in child-targeted advertising and a lack of faith in our children’s dietary curiosity [have] created a generation of ‘picky eaters’ with dull palates,” reports the group. “With nearly 17 percent of America’s children now clinically obese and a staggering 32 percent overweight, the time is long past to address the unhealthy food environments our children live in.”

The new standards limit calories per meal to 850 for high school meals, 700 for middle school and 650 for elementary and more than double the mandated minimum servings of fruits and vegetables while reducing the sodium, saturated fats and trans fats in school kids’ diets. Whole-grain foods, beans and dark green and orange vegetables such as broccoli, spinach, carrots and sweet potatoes have replaced things like pizza and French fries as staple items in schools that follow the program.

Of course, not everybody likes the changes. Lunch strikes, Facebook protest pages, Twitter campaigns, YouTube parody videos and other means have been utilized coast-to-coast to voice opposition to the healthier meals. Some affected cafeterias blame the new smaller portions and healthier fare for causing as much as a 70 percent drop-off in school lunch program participation since the new standards took effect.

Psychologists understand that kids may not come around to new foods right away but will eventually eat them—so the federal government and most participating schools are sticking to their guns. And the USDA says that if a school “encounters significant hardships employing the new calorie requirements, we stand ready to work with them quickly and effectively to remedy the situation with additional flexibilities.”

The benefits of the new standards far outweigh the costs. “School meals can help children develop healthy eating habits—or they can prime them for a life of poor health and unnecessary suffering,” says EWG.
EWG lauds the new standards for significantly expanding access to and appreciation of nourishing food. Whether they can help shift eating norms across the country remains to be seen, but regardless millions of American kids will likely now get their healthiest meals of the day on a tray in their school cafeterias.

CONTACTS: EWG; National School Lunch Program; Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010.

 
A NEW SET OF ANSWERS IS FEATURED EACH WEEK!

 

Dear EarthTalk: What is the “Bluesign” standard for textiles? Which if any well known manufacturers are embracing it?
-- Karin Romano, Bristol, CT

Bluesign has gained traction in recent years among leading outdoor clothing brands. Consumers can feel confident in buying clothing items with the Bluesign label that they are getting the most green friendly, socially conscious garments on the market.

Photo © Bluesign

Bluesign is an emerging standard for environmental health and safety in the manufacturing of textiles. The Switzerland-based organization, officially known as Bluesign Technologies AG, provides independent auditing of textile mills, examining manufacturing processes from raw materials and energy inputs to water and air emissions outputs. Each component is assessed based on its ecotoxicological impact. Bluesign ranks its audit findings in order of concern, and suggests ways to reduce consumption while recommending alternatives to harmful chemicals or processes where applicable. Textile mills that commit to verifiably adopting Bluesign’s recommendations can become certified “System Partners” and attract business from a wide range of brands and retailers around the world looking for greener vendors.

Eco-aware consumers can feel confident purchasing clothing items with the Bluesign label that they are buying the most environmentally friendly, socially conscious version of the jacket, shirt, sweater, pants, hat or gloves in question. Given the push for greener products of every kind, Bluesign has gained serious traction in the last few years among some of the leading brands in the outdoor clothing and gear business.

Patagonia was Bluesign’s first “brand” member and has been supportive of the program since its inception in 2000. While only 16 percent of the products in its 2012 line contain Bluesign-approved fabrics, the company has set a goal with its suppliers to have all Patagonia fabrics adhere to the standard by 2015.

The North Face is a newer partner for Bluesign, but no less committed: The company has been going gangbusters for the standard since 2010, and offers several clothing items made with at least 90 percent Bluesign-approved fabrics. Over the two years it has been converting its supply chain over to Bluesign-approved vendors, The North Face has saved 85 Olympic swimming pools worth of water, 38 tanker trucks worth of chemicals, and carbon emissions similar to taking some 1,100 cars off the road for a year.

Another leading outdoor clothing manufacturer embracing Bluesign is Norway’s Helly Hansen. In its 2012 line, more than 100 of Helly Hansen’s 500 products contain fabrics that meet the Bluesign standard; that number is expected to increase by 50 percent in 2013. Helly Hansen would go fully Bluesign except that some of its specialty products that need to be flame retardant do not meet the standard. The company is optimistic, however, that textile makers can solve that problem—and then it can offer a 100 percent Bluesign-approved product line. Some of the other big outdoor brands that have teamed up with Bluesign include REI and Canada’s Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC).

Whether Bluesign catches on more widely in this dog-eat-dog, economically stressed business climate remains to be seen. “Earning Bluesign approval costs mills and suppliers time and money,” reports MEC. “They have to be convinced they’ll get a return on their investment in the form of increased demand for their products from manufacturers like MEC and ultimately from consumers.”

CONTACTS: Bluesign Technologies; Patagonia; The North Face; Helly Hansen; REI; MEC.

A SYNDICATED COLUMN ONLY ON AMERICAJR.COM

 

 

 

 

 

SEND IN YOUR QUESTIONS...

GOT AN ENVIRONMENTAL QUESTION? Send it to: EarthTalk, c/o E/The Environmental Magazine, P.O. Box 5098, Westport, CT 06881; submit it at: www.emagazine.com/earthtalk/thisweek/, or e-mail: earthtalk@emagazine.com. Read past columns at: www.emagazine.com/earthtalk/archives.php.

 

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