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
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.
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
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.”
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.
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
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.”
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 Lunch Program; Healthy,
Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010.
NEW SET OF ANSWERS IS FEATURED EACH WEEK!
EarthTalk: What is the “Bluesign”
standard for textiles? Which if any well known manufacturers
are embracing it?
-- Karin Romano, Bristol, CT
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.”
North Face; Helly