The statistics are shocking: two thirds of the American population is obese, and that includes children, many of whom show signs of early-onset heart disease like arterial blockages and high cholesterol. One in three children will eventually develop diabetes. The prevalence — and low cost — of unhealthy fast food is partly to blame, but according to the new documentary "Lunch Hour," schools, which parents rely on to feed their children while educating them, are contributing to the obesity epidemic by serving up poor quality, unhealthy food.
Instead of fresh produce, most kids get low-grade, highly processed meat and fat-laden dairy, commodities that the government buys cheap and distributes through the National School Lunch Program, and food industry lobbies fight to maintain the status quo, the film points out. There is light at the end of this particular bureaucratic tunnel, however. Some schools have gone outside the system with great results to provide students with fresh foods, often grown in on-campus gardens. The director of "Lunch Hour," James Costa, has no children, but as an American, he is concerned about the dire impact of the lunch crisis. "This is an issue every individual should strive to fix for the future of our country," he says, and elaborates in the following interview.
MNN: How did the film come about?
James Costa: I am chairman of the board for The Hunt's Point Alliance for Children and was visiting one of the cafeterias and saw what was being offered for lunch. I asked the cafeteria worker if this was a joke and she said, "No, and actually it was a good day." "Lunch Hour" was financed by me, and good friends who also cared about the issue.
How did you get the participation of the experts and celebrities like Rachael Ray and Robin Quivers?
That was easy. I just contacted the people I wanted and they all said yes right away. So many people wanted to participate in the film. I was very fortunate.
What research did you do?
I hired a researcher, did my own, and just opened my eyes and saw there was tons of information out there to devour.
What was your mission and approach?
To make a film that would get the viewer motivated to do something. I didn't want them to feel they could watch it and say, "That's sad but there is nothing I can do." Everybody can do something. These are the children of America, and they deserve better than the way we are treating them.
Why aren’t people more aware of this crisis?
I think they are but they feel it's just too big a problem to solve so they get discouraged. There are a lot of parents who are aware, but most parents think their kids are not being fed anything that's bad for them. And doing something about it? Hopefully, "Lunch Hour" will change all that.
What are the ramifications if change doesn’t happen?
Another generation of sick and unhealthy children. Yes, it's that simple.
What is the main obstacle to change?
Certain industries love it just the way it is. They are going to fight to keep their seat at the school cafeteria table. We need to make sure every industry we allow at the table can only offer healthy food to our kids.
What’s the best plan of attack considering that?
Every parent to go to their kids' school and ask what's for lunch. If they can try it and see what it looks like. From there, you can see how big the battle, if any, is going to be. Everybody has to get involved.
Students water their school's garden in a scene from 'Lunch Hour.' (Photo: Birdstreet Productions)
What are the first things that need to change?
More fruits and vegetables in the schools, better quality of bread and pasta items, and water.
Are you optimistic about change?
Yes. There is no benefit in getting discouraged because we know what gets done with that.
What kind of impact has the film had so far?
People who see it usually tell others to see it. Grassroots is the way this issue is going to see change.
You’re releasing it today (March 4) on iTunes and Amazon.com. Why did you opt to release it online?
Documentaries are becoming more popular and most people I know see them online. Seemed like a good choice.
Will you make the film available to school and parents’ groups on DVD?
You can get the film theatrically and educationally via Tugg.com.
What do you hope the takeaway is?
That everyone who sees it realizes that they have to do something. We have to just count to three, breathe, and get to work. The end result, if we succeed, is pretty terrific: healthy kids. And who wouldn't want that!?
Related on MNN:
- 5 ideas for healthy lunches for kids
- Why school lunch matters (Infographic)
- School gardening programs plant seeds of healthy eating