As nation-wide funding for school cafeterias rapidly decreases and high-calorie, low-nutrient meals have become order of the day, our nation’s children are being afflicted by a slew of diet-based diseases. In LUNCH, a revealing short documentary, director Avis Richards investigates the causes and the consequences of “growing up in a junk-food culture.” Through numerous on-site interviews with food workers, doctors, educators and students, LUNCH provides a candid, penetrating and disturbing account of the National School Lunch Program’s failure to promote the proper dietary habits to ensure our youth’s physical, social and psychological well-being. The documentary also explores viable alternatives to the hamburger hegemony, talking with farmers and other community leaders about their efforts to put locally-grown, whole foods back on the menu and make diet and nutrition a core part of every school’s educational model. LUNCH serves up an eye-opening account of a national crisis and its potential solutions, a film that should interest anyone concerned about the future of our students and our society.
LUNCH is a short documentary exploring the effects of the National School Lunch Program on America’s children today and seeks to shed light on the current situation through candid interviews with doctors, teachers, farmers and various specialists.
The National School Lunch Program feeds some 28 Million children who eat one and sometimes two meals a day at school. Sadly the food that is served to them too often resembles fast food. The effects are far reaching. Statistics have shown that kids today will have a lower life expectancy than their parents. Many doctors have had no training in diagnosing adult onset diabetes in younger patients. In 2007 the total cost of diabetes treatment was $174 Billion, which is expected to rise as more and more people are diagnosed every day. One of the major problems is that parents, students and even school administrators do not pay attention to poor food quality. Ironically even fast food chains have to supply information on what they are serving, so why isn’t that the case in schools?
With school systems underfunded and school food sold in bulk (and “on the cheap”), results have shown a downsizing of proper kitchens in school cafeterias to the point where pre-made fast food-style lunches are the only meals available. This is a recipe for disaster, and it is having an adverse effect not only on kid’s health, but also on kids’ ability to identify healthy food. The results extend beyond health and weight issues, but also to self-esteem problems and an inability to function properly in classrooms. From healthcare to national test averages, everything seems to be tied to what we eat.
The most common argument is that children will not eat healthy food; however, many in the field disagree with this statement and say it is simply a matter of making nutritional food available to them. LUNCH explores how some schools, calling themselves “Green Schools”—such as Hamstead Hill Academy in Baltimore—have made nutrition a core part of their educational model. From school gardening to cooking classes, these schools have taught children to make healthy choices by including them in the preparation of their own meals. The film also targets a broader range of social issues beyond school and healthcare. These issues include economics, where the importance of locally grown produce in the Baltimore school system has lead to a partnership with Great Kids Farm. Not only does this farm supply produce for the school system, but it also educates kids on where their food comes from and offers affordable alternatives to the expensive national distribution plan currently in existence. Farms like Great Kids Farm create jobs locally. In addition, studies have shown that small farms, which use their soil to grow a variety of produce, are far more effective than their larger mono-cropping counterparts.
There is a national movement to build a real connection between local farms and schools. Michelle Obama’s White House garden shows that people don’t need a big farm to have a positive impact on each other and on America.
The idea for LUNCH was born when Executive Producer and Director Avis Richards realized that our country’s National School Lunch Program was not working and decided to do something about it. With Earth Day Network’s input, Avis embarked on a yearlong research process. Once she analyzed and understood the issue, she decided to share her findings in a film that would not only expose the problems of the program but also recommend solutions.
Traveling from Boston to New York to Washington D.C. to Baltimore, Avis and her team interviewed medical doctors, teachers, chefs, school directors, food producers, volunteers and other participants from various walks of life to ensure that the documentary would feature a number of opinions. Technical challenges were legion as the crew shot on a shoestring budget and within a limited time frame. But, the team persevered and, in the end, produced a rewarding piece that has generated discussion and will hopefully stimulate some change.
Originally, Avis and her team intended to produce the film in HD video. However, some of the material was only available on digital video, so the crew decided to shoot the entire film in DV for consistency. As they compiled interviews, their passion for the subject grew stronger and they became motivated to create a piece that would impact both the general public and policy makers. They hoped that children across the country would have access to healthy meals on a daily basis, and more importantly, that they could learn the importance of a healthy diet—a lesson that will last a lifetime.