Thursday, December 6, 2007

Northern Westchester Round-Up

Cortlandt: Community leaders hosted forums to discuss the crossburning incident on a local resident’s

North Salem: The Town Justice issued an arrest warrant for a local convicted sex offender who failed
to appear in court.

North White Plains: Construction has begun on the section of the Bronx River Parkway, from North White
Plains to the Kensico Dam in Valhalla to add dividers between opposing lanes of traffic.

The first day of construction was marred with yet another fatal crash on this section of road.

Tarrytown: Fire hydrants on Cobbs Lane failed during a fire. The village is following up with local residents to determine if the hydrants were privately-owned.

Valhalla: Bowing to appeals from local doctors and humanitarian groups, the New York Medical College announced that it will discontinue its practice of using live dogs in physiology courses for its medical students.

– Catherine Wilson

It’s Not About The Cupcakes

By Catherine Wilson, Northern Bureau Chief

The Jacob Burns Film Center in Pleasantville is currently embarking on an ambitious expansion program called the Campaign for the 21st Century Education. With such a directive it was little wonder, therefore, that the film center recently hosted the premier of an equally ambitious film entitled Two Angry Moms concerning changes
in our schools. But while the Jacob Burns campaign seeks to “equip all students with the skills to communicate
effectively … in a world dominated by technology and visual text”, the goal of the Two Angry Moms is a lot more basic – to just get our school kids to eat properly.

On the surface it seems like a reasonable premise to place more nutritious food in our schools, particularly the school lunch programs. But the “Two Angry Moms” documentary showed that trying to get our nation’s children
to learn about healthy eating in our schools is anything but simple. Award-winning producer, Amy Kalafa, followed Chappaqua holistic nutritionist, Dr. Susan Rubin, across the country for a year in her Michael Moore-like quest to keep our local schools junkfood free. And like Mr. Moore’s movies, Two Angry Moms proved
to be just as shocking, frightening, frustrating, and sometimes hilarious, especially when confronting government bureaucracy.

Dr. Rubin has been advocating healthier lunches in our schools for over a decade. She reassures parents that healthy eating is “not about the cupcakes” but about the overall health and future well-being of our children. As she notes, “Obesity is just the tip of the iceberg.

Normal weight children will also eventually suffer severe health problems from consuming unhealthy food”. Dr. Rubin’s website,, lists ingredients currently found in the food in school cafeterias and vending machines: partially hydrogenated oil, brominated vegetable oil, high fructose corn syrup, artificial colors and flavorings, benzoate preservatives, caffeine, artificial sweeteners, MSG, olestra, and sodium nitrate.

Medical research links these non-natural additives to heart disease, strokes, allergies, cancer,
osteoporosis, nausea, breathing difficulties, and damaged organs.

By the time a child graduates from high school they could have conceivably consumed these unhealthy
ingredients in 2,340 meals – 180 school lunches per year for 13 years. And that’s not counting the junk in the snacks in school vending machines, sports drinks at team games, candy sold at fundraising events. Dr. Rubin refers to this as our nation’s “toxic food environment” which she believes is “poisoning our children”.

According to a study released by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) on November 28 of this year, “over two-thirds of our states get poor grades on school food report card”. New York’s school food rated a D+. Despite this worrying analysis of our current situation, the CSPI is supporting a proposed amendment to the Farm Act currently before the U.S. Senate which would allow the sale in our nation’s
High Schools of: Bottled water that may include added flavoring, noncaloric sweetners, or carbonation.

Up to 12-oz servings of milk or juice, or fluid milk substitutes, up to 170 cal/8 oz Up to 12 oz servings of other
beverages with no more than 66 cal/ 8 oz, phased down over 5 years to 25 cal/8 oz, except for beverages
offered for sale in athletic areas “Foods” are to be defined as follows:

Content Restrictions: 35% calories from fat (except for nuts and reduced-fat cheese) 10% of calories from saturated fat (except for reduced-fat cheese) 35% sugar by weight

Sodium Limits Apply

Calorie Restrictions: Elementary and Middle School – 180 calories High School – 200 calories The amendment seeks to address the obesity issue by restricting the calories in school lunches.

But as Dr. Rubin points out, “It’s not about the calories. It’s about the content of the food.” If this amendment becomes law, our schools will legally be allowed to pour sodas and sports drinks down our children’s throats and feed them fats and sugars in their food. e major backers of this bill are members of the food processing
industry, and soft drink producers like Gatorade (hence the sports drink exception to this amendment!). At a government hearing on this issue in Washington, D.C., Dr. Rubin found that she was the only non-industry individual in the room.

Dr. Rubin’s comment, “It’s not about the calories, it’s about the content of the food” becomes clearer watching the Two Angry Moms documentary as it reveals the shocking facts of our children’s eating habits. The predicted outcomes sound as ominous as global warming:

• 1 in 3 children born in 2000 will become diabetic

• 1 in 3 children are currently overweight

• 1 in 7 children are obese

• Girls 10 to 14 had a 166% increase in type-2 diabetes since 2002

• Over 25% of children have tooth decay

• Bone fractures in teens increased 42% in 30 years

The goal of the “Better School Food” organization is to turn this trend around, one school at a time.
Better School Food has already enlisted parents both here in Westchester and nationwide and armed them with strategies to improve the nutritional value of their schools’ lunches. Dr. Rubin suggests that concerned parents
should sit in on a school lunch period and provides a “lunch-in checklist” for parents to consider when observing their school’s cafeterias. Her checklist contains common-sense questions such as “Do you want to eat this food”
and “Are fresh fruits and vegetable readily available” to questions that initially don’t seem to fit, such as
“How far does the food travel to get to your school”. The answer to that last question could determine
the ultimate quality of the food being served.

Many Westchester schools use food service management companies who buy the school lunch ingredients in bulk, often through incentive programs offered from the food processing industry. So decisions about what
our children will eat for lunch are just as likely to be based on whether the service company will get a trip
to Vegas as to what the nutritional content of the food is.

Even what the Federal School Lunch Program defines as “nutritional” is open to debate – a menu item with less than .5% of fat may legally be promoted as “fatfree”.

So who can our schools trust to provide lunch for our children? Fortunately, there is an alternative program available to our nation’s schools: the “Farm-to-School” program, which is funded by USDA grants. The objectives of this program are to connect schools with local farms to provide healthy meals for school cafeterias,
improve student nutrition, provide health and nutritional educational opportunities, and support local farmers.

Currently there are 1,117 programs in 33 states involving 10,943 schools in 768 districts. Dr. Rubin advocates the Farmto-School program as not only being beneficial to our local students and NYS farmers, but even as a tool in the fight against global warming. New York State apples are renowned the world over yet many Westchester schools, through their service management companies bulk purchasing contracts, import their apples
from Oregon – over 2,000 trucking miles away! The “Two Angry Moms” documentary showed successful Farm-to-School programs in diverse climates and economic districts from the affluence of Yale University, to urban schools, from sunshine in Berkeley, California to the snowy mountains of New Hampshire. Students in each district became involved in all aspects of food – from growing, to meal preparation and planning, to
table. Nutritional eating became part of the school curriculum.

As our children’s health crisis becomes more evident, more Westchester schools, such as Katonah-Lewisboro,
have already developed wellness programs and adopted several of the recommendations of the Better School Food organization. But as the movement to improve our children’s health grows, so too does the opposition.

The food processing manufacturers are not willing to let go of their lucrative purchasing contracts without
a fight. The health of our children hangs in the balance.


1. Center for Disease Control

2. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation – Health Care

3. Medical News Today

4. New York Times – September 13, 2007


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