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From the Director’s Desk: Why Chicken Nuggets Matter

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In explaining its endorsements for the upcoming LA Unified School District (LAUSD) Board elections, the LA Times asserted in their February 8 article that the current Board President Steve Zimmer has somehow inappropriately “lavished attention on such side issues as where the district sources its chicken nuggets.”

However, school food is no side issue, particularly at a place like LA Unified School District (LAUSD) that serves 750,000 meals every single day–including breakfast, lunch, and after-school meals.  Given that more than 72% of our LAUSD students qualify for free or reduced priced lunch (based on family income), school is often the only place where many of our kids will get a decent meal.

Civil Eats: How One Groundbreaking Set of Rules is Changing the Food in L.A. Schools and the System Behind It

Food and nutrition play a vital role in a child’s academic performance, and studies have found that food intake affect education outcomes. Hunger is associated with lower grades, higher rates of absenteeism, repeating a grade, and an inability to focus. In addition, inadequate consumption of fruits, vegetables or dairy products is associated with lower grades. On the reverse side, studies have also found that having a healthy, balanced diet improves academic performance and maximizes cognitive capabilities.

LAUSD spends $150 million dollars on food every year, making it one of the largest food purchasers in the state of California. With this significant impact on the food market, it is important that LAUSD leverages its purchasing power responsibly to support the health of students as well as the health of our food system. This includes paying attention to the school district’s impact on farmers, distributors, workers and animals in our local food system. In 2012, LAUSD became the first school district in the country to adopt the Good Food Purchasing Policy (GFPP)–a cutting edge, comprehensive procurement program that seeks to raise standards across five values: Nutrition, Environmental Sustainability, Local Economies, Valued Workforce, and Animal Welfare. Following LA’s example, San Francisco and Oakland Unified School Districts adopted GFPP last year–while additional school districts around the country are seeking to follow in their footsteps–and all are looking to LAUSD as a model in how to fundamentally transform food purchasing.

The current Board members, with critical leadership from Mr. Zimmer, have all worked faithfully with LAUSD staff and community organizations to implement the Good Food Purchasing Policy, offering our students not just nutritious food, but also access to food that is humane and locally sourced. Furthermore, every single candidate in this race has expressed support for the Good Food Purchasing Policy. Several candidates took the time to weigh in on various school food issues in response to a candidate questionnaire produced by the LA Food Policy Council, clearly recognizing school food as more than a “side issue.” We do not argue that the LAUSD Board make school food their only priority.  However, we greatly appreciate and applaud our school board members–including Mr. Steve Zimmer–for providing leadership on an issue that significantly impacts our students and our region.