Michelle Obama's Kitchen Garden has raised the hopes of local food activists since ground was broken way back in March 2009. THE ROOT has been in the dirt ever since, examining the frayed ties between black folks and the earth, and noting the first lady's subtle push for health care reform over a lunch of baked chicken and organic salad.
On the White House lawn, the WWII "victory garden" rhetoric is a bit overblown, but the issue—how to be healthy and hungry without getting sick—is ripe for exploration in the age of Obama's arugula. It's even more relevant for black and latino families who have disproportionately negative health outcomes because of the kind of food they eat. Alicia Villarosa, a regular writer on health and fitness for THE ROOT, summed up the uphill climb:
We’ve turned into a nation of couch potatoes and mini spuds and spend far too much time indoors and online instead of outside and moving our bodies. Then there’s the increased pressure faced by schools to pass standardized academic tests; as a result, many public schools have eliminated physical education classes and recess.
But there are solutions, often to be found in the oddest places (like the White House)—and from the same kids who have been so let down by the adults around them. In New Orleans, for example, I wrote on a group of middle schoolers who have changed the game on school nutrition:
Today, the Rethinkers have expanded operations to five RSD schools and another three charter schools in New Orleans. They've held more press conferences, and they've written policy briefs on the issues of nutrition, economic development, and the environmental impact of food transport. They've also created a video game, "The Ultimate Lunch Tray," to teach students about healthy choices. In 2008, they visited Grand Isle, a Gulf Coast shrimping community that has been hit hard by the lack of demand for local catch as well as the incursion of Louisiana shrimp cloned in China and shipped back to bayou markets. Working with city government, Rethink persuaded the head nutritionist of the RSD to write into New Orleans' food provider contract that fresh, local food must be used at schools where economically possible.
While the food- and environmental-justice movements generally have a reputation for elitism, these ordinary, mostly African American children prove an exception to the rule: "Their first passion about food," Wholey says, "was not so much that they understand the importance of it from a health perspective — we didn't even talk about diabetes until this summer — but that they could actually create a market in the public schools that could save the shrimpers and save the farmers."
There are many ways into the green movement, it seems—and for kids, one part education, one part good food and two parts of real fun is an effective onramp.
Covers the White House and Washington for The Root. Follow her on Twitter.