Food Box

Battle against junk food in schools

Those of you who have been following Jamie Oliver’s food crusade in West Virginia schools are most likely in despair that Hawaii’s obesity and diabetes rates are right up there with those in the American South. Oliver led a brilliant battle against junk food in Hampton’s schools. Armed with camera and international exposure (which acts as both carrot and stick), he worked the town masterfully. Saul Alinsky would be proud. Short of a Jamie Oliver campaign, we are making some progress locally, and the news is better than you thought.

Since 2007, the Hawaii Department of Education has banned vending machine sales of soda, sweet drinks and snacks containing trans fat. “Hapa” rice, a combination of brown and white, has been introduced, and almost all bakery products are at least 50 percent whole wheat. Dexter Kisihda, the school coordinator for ‘AINA In Schools (one of Kokua Hawaii Foundation’s projects), is working with Department of Education schools to support schoolyard gardens and salad bars. This year, three DOE schools have salad bars, but ‘AINA plans to expand that program to all of its 13 schools. The gardens also make a big difference, as kids relate better to carrots and lettuce they have grown in real dirt.

Kamehameha Schools has set the local standard for wholesome school food. When he returned to head up Kamehameha’s food service eight years ago, Gordie Morris tossed out the deep fat fryers. He asked the company that makes their 100 percent fruit juice to reformulate it, adding calcium. Everything is now made from scratch, including fresh yogurt. Brown is the only rice served. Kamehameha’s cafeteria foods have nutritional cards nearby that encourage kids to eat “a rainbow” of foods. Fruit might have a orange label, whereas veggies are tagged with another color. The idea is to familiarize the students with different food groups, enabling them to choose a varied and healthy diet. The next step is incorporating more locally grown foods into the menu. Here Kamehameha has a distinct advantage since many of its tenants are local farmers and ranchers.

Punahou School joined the food revolution a couple of years ago when it changed its food mix, adding salad bars and vegetarian entrees and leaving behind fried foods. The older students had more difficulties adjusting to the absence of junk food, whereas the young ones have proved more adaptable. Punahou has launched numerous recycling initiatives on campus including worm composting, schoolyard gardens and reduction in cafeteria waste. Milk is now served from a dispenser (into washable cups) rather than in those tiny cartons. Bins for recycling are available through out the campus. Silverware and cups are washed, not trashed, in the K-6 lunchroom. Styrofoam has been banned on campus and beverage boxes are made into takeout boxes.