When schools in California's Sausalito Marin City District return to session this August, they will be the first in the nation to serve their students 100 percent organic meals, sustainably sourced and free of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
More than 500 students at Bayside MLK Jr. Academy in Marin City and Willow Creek Academy in Sausalito will eat fresh, local food year-round, thanks to a partnership with the Conscious Kitchen, a project of the environmental education nonprofit Turning Green.
"Students everywhere are vulnerable to pesticide residues and unsafe environmental toxins," Turning Green founder Judi Shils said on Tuesday. "Not only does this program far exceed USDA nutritional standards, but it ties the health of our children to the health of our planet. It’s the first program to say that fundamentally, you cannot have one without the other."
The organization says meals will be accompanied by nutrition and gardening education. The Conscious Kitchen previously served 156 students at Bayside MLK Jr. Academy, where it first tested the program starting in August 2013. Over the course of two years, the founders said, disciplinary cases decreased and attendance increased.
Moreover, the program will address the controversial issue of GMOs in school food. As environmental news outlet EcoWatch reports:
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This program is the first to take a stand against GMOs. While the long-term effects of GMOs are still uncertain, a growing body of evidence links them to a variety of health risks and environmental damage. An estimated 80 percent of items on most supermarket shelves contain GMOs, and they are ubiquitous in school food programs.
Nutritional experts have long pointed out that food and beverages in schools have a long-term impact on children's health and well-being. The 2010 Healthy and Hunger Free Kids Act required schools in the U.S. to update their meal provisions to meet new USDA nutritional standards and offer more whole wheat products, fresh fruits and vegetables, and lean proteins to children who receive subsidized school lunches.
But as the Berkeley-based nutritional nonprofit The Edible Schoolyard Project explains, it is equally important to prioritize food education.
"Schools that incorporate an integrated approach to edible education—combining local, seasonal food procurement strategies with hands-on lessons taught in the classroom, kitchen, and garden—are far more likely to sustain healthy school meal initiatives," said Liza Siegler, the organization's head of partnerships and engagement.
As Justin Everett, consulting chef with the Conscious Kitchen, explained on Tuesday, "By embracing fresh, local, organic, non-GMO food, this program successfully disrupts the cycle of unhealthy, pre-packaged, heat and serve meals that dominate school kitchens."