Organic Food in Schools: And When Is It OK to Accept Less for the Greater Good?

A dear friend of mine believed she could never afford to send her daughter to a half decent preschool, so she and her partner have been educating their daughter on their own. Their daughter is incredibly bright and inquisitive, so clearly they have been doing a good job.

But they were recently offered a spot in a very good preschool with sliding scale tuition for practically free. They were thrilled by the opportunity and anxious to have their daughter enrolled. There is just one problem: the school provides breakfast, lunch, and snacks and will not allow outside food under any circumstances.

This perplexes me in general – what if the kid had allergies or was being raised vegan or kosher? Even public schools allow outside food, so it can’t be a matter of socio-economic equality.

My friend goes without luxuries – and even plenty of basics – so that her daughter can eat organic. She tried to explain this to the school without sounding ungrateful of the opportunity, but the school kept assuring her that the meals were “perfectly healthy.” But we know it is pretty much standard public school fare – hormone-laced milk, genetically modified corn, sugary cereals.

Now my friend is actually wondering if she should give up her daughter’s only shot at preschool because she doesn’t want her eating junky foods five days a week. She isn’t fanatical by any means – like my son, her daughter eats birthday cake and they go out for pizza and ice cream all the time. But in their own home, they make sure the milk and eggs are organic and the chicken is free range.

My advice to her was to accept the tuition and do whatever she can to minimize her daughter’s consumption of the school food. Give her a big breakfast at home. Encourage her to eat more or less of certain things. Feel justified that her access to education and allowing more work hours for the parents is for the “greater good.” Do you agree?

I reminded my friend that even at my son’s private, progressive preschool, I had not made any leeway in encouraging organic snacks. I’d accepted that he ate conventional “dirty dozen” produce most days and had pizza and soft pretzels once a week.

But talking to my friend inspired me to give speaking up another try. I’m much more comfortable with my son’s school and its faculty, and I know that many of the mothers feel exactly the same way I do but don’t feel comfortable speaking up.

Below is the letter I sent today. I will update the blog with any reply I receive. But even if I am not successful, it reminds me how important it is to SPEAK UP. If no one asks the questions and voices their convictions, progress will never be made. Even if your office blows off your questions about recycling or your play space thinks you are nut for asking about greener cleaning supplies, when the second or third parent asks, they are going to have to start taking these things seriously and look into these suggestions.

I mentioned once to my local play space that they should be using Seventh Generation wipes instead of Clorox. They blew me off, but next thing I knew they had made the switch and even boasted about it with new signs. I don’t need the credit – I’m just happy to be heard.

Dear Staff;

As the school year comes to an end, I wanted to take this time to thank you so much for such a wonderful experience. Sam is truly thriving at XYZ and we couldn’t be happier with the teachers and the education he is receiving.

I do have a small suggestion, and I hope you will take it to heart and let me know your honest feedback.

Back when Sam was first starting school, I asked about the daily snacks, particularly the fruit. I’m so pleased that the kids eat fresh fruit for most snacks, but knowing what I do about pesticides and chemicals, I would prefer they be organic – especially since apples, pears, and berries are all in the “dirty dozen”

I don’t remember who I first asked why the produce was not organic, but the response was “the parents are not willing to pay for organic fruits.” At the time I was not comfortable questioning that response, but as I have gotten to know the administration and the parents, I wonder if we can take another look at this policy.

I have seen the generosity of the parents at XYZ and their commitment to paying for a better school and of course the health and safety of their children. I believe that if a survey was taken asking whether parents were willing to pay a higher premium for organic snacks, you might be surprised by the answers.

I am most concerned about the fruit, but I would love to see all the snacks have an organic upgrade. I know that there are facilities for buying organic snacks in bulk, such as http://www.yumyumsnacks.com/bulk_case_snacks.html – which is specifically tailored for schools.

I hope that you will take this suggestion into consideration as I believe that many of XYZ’s parents would support the switch and paying a bit more in tuition if necessary. I really appreciate you taking the time to explore this option. Not only would it be beneficial to the health and safety of our children, it would set a great example of sustainability as a progressive and top quality preschool.

Please let me know your thoughts. I am happy to discuss this further at any time.

Best,

Paige


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