I’ll get back to EHR, ethnography, and culture next week. This feels a little more important.
Last night I watched an episode of Chopped that made me cry. Four lunch ladies - who should rightly be called School Chefs - competed against one another. I wasn’t the only one who cried, either. Guest judge and White House chef Sam Kass was totally crying, as were judges Amanda Freitag and Marc Murphy.
The first thing you should know is that the producers managed to find the four nicest ladies in the entire country. They decided to compete, but to compete nicely. They were totally supportive and kind, and while they competed their hearts out, you could very obviously see two things:
1. They were honored - and I mean HONORED - to be on the show, to be recognized for what they do, to cook for the judges, to be treated so well, to be able to show that lunch ladies are more than just lunch ladies.
2. They care about the kids in their schools in ways I cannot begin to describe.
I don’t want to tell you the outcome or too many details because I want you to go track down that episode and watch it, sniffling into a tissue the whole time at the incredible decency and kindness of these people who work so hard for so little money and even less respect to FEED CHILDREN. In fact, I think this episode should be required viewing for all of us, whether we have children or not. Particularly those of us who love food. Because I’ll tell you this: It made me think a lot about what it is I love about food, and realize I was missing out on one of the biggest parts I love.
When I watched it, I couldn’t help but think the following:
What’s wrong with this country? 1 out of 5 (Marc Murphy says 1 in 4) children doesn’t have enough food?
What’s wrong with this country that we don’t stop and think about this whole crazy food movement and how we’re so delighted by this restaurant or that, and this new wild ingredient or the other, while School Chefs like these women are cooking on bare bones budgets, trying to make the best with what they have, trying to change the face not only of the “lunch lady” but also of the school lunch itself?
What’s wrong with this country that we’re yelling about how broken our healthcare system is but very few of us - how many, really - are talking about fixing the whole system. And that means starting at the beginning: If we work to ensure kids have enough to eat and enough of the right stuff to eat, if we help kids develop healthy eating habits, perhaps we can encourage wellness and even preventative care at a much earlier age. Yes, healthy eating and good habits need to happen at home too, but why not work to help every kid have the chance to eat well and be healthy when they’re growing and learning and need it most? Parents are supposed to raise children, but think how much you learned in school. Not in the classroom but from your environment, from your friends and enemies and peers, from your teachers and counselors and even lunch ladies, from the people who took an interest in you and from those who were cruel or who flat out ignored you.
I know, it’s the day before Thanksgiving. It’s my favorite holiday, and the reason for that is it’s always been about two of my favorite F-words: food and family. Yes, it’s also our national stuff yourself to the max day, but the point of it is sort of to stuff yourself with a lot of love and then lie around and feel thankful about the bounty in your life. And there I was, last night, thinking about kids who don’t have anywhere near enough. Not just on Thanksgiving, but every day. Honestly, the whole fetishization of food has been bothering me for a while, but last night it felt pretty selfish. Food is best when it’s full of love. Man, food is love. Here we are, full up and those kids don’t have enough.
I don’t have children. Whether I ever will is up in the air. I’m saying this as someone who has gotten to know the healthcare system pretty well. You don’t need me to tell you it’s got some problems. I’m convinced systemic change - cultural change - is the way to fix the problem. Not just insurance, not just electronic health records, not just the relationship between doctors and patients, although all these are important. I mean the way we view health and wellness. The way we relate to our bodies and our own well-being. The kinds of foods we eat, when we eat them, how often, in what quantities. Habits are tough to form, but they’re tougher to break. There’s no way to convince kids that pizza and ice cream and all that good stuff isn’t great. But there is a way to help kids eat well, even if they may not have the resources to do so when they’re not at school.
If you notice when you search “childhood hunger,” ConAgra pops up a lot. Where are the rest of us? Those of us who like to declare we eat organic this and local that? I know small organizations are out there, but if we’re so righteous about our own diets, let’s not be selfish. Let’s work to support, enable, create, finance networks that can bring food to kids at a price that allows smaller farmers and producers to participate and not just huge organizations that the rest of us sniff our noses at.
This is a part of the healthcare system we can fix. Those ladies - dammit, those School Chefs - inspired the hell out of me. Here are some places you can learn more about how to help. And you have more information or more resources, please let me know. I’m interested too in local volunteering opportunities. I’d like to spend Christmas with the Little Brothers Friends of the Elderly but I’d also like to get involved in volunteering with food programs for schools here in the Bay.
First watch that episode. Go get inspired. It’s been a tough go for a lot of people, but I’m feeling a little extra thankful this year.