13 April 2011

Mixed grade for USDA?: Agency expands Kids' Fruit and Veggie Program

The USDA Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program (FFVP), which provides free fruit and vegetable snacks to elementary schoolchildren, is set to undergo a major expansion for the 2011-2012 school year.

What started in 2002 as a $6 million experiment in only 5 states has now blossomed into a $158 million program covering all 50 states, as well as the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

A for Effort
Part of the impetus behind this program is to increase the variety of fruits and vegetables consumed by U.S. children. Currently children ages 6-19 consume only half of the recommended minimum fruit servings and slightly more than half of the recommended minimum vegetable servings (with much of that in the form of French fries).

The program's other goals are to "combat childhood obesity by helping children learn more healthful eating habits" and to "introduce schoolchildren to a variety of produce they otherwise might not have the opportunity to try."

Schools that participate in the program must agree to:
  • Make free fresh fruits and vegetables available to all enrolled children
  • Provide the fresh fruit and vegetable snack, separately from the lunch or breakfast meal, throughout the school day
  • Widely publicize within the school the availability of free fresh fruits and vegetables

According to the FFVP Handbook, schools are encouraged to think outside the box when it comes to choosing which fruits and vegetables to purchase and serve. "Kiwi, star fruit, pomegranate, rutabaga, and kohlrabi" are some of the suggestions mentioned, in addition to "juicy ripe peaches, tart crunchy apples" and "sweet sugar snap peas or asparagus."

C for Oversight?
While the FFVP has received near unanimous praise, one oddly overlooked factor is the issue of feeding children non-organic produce laden with pesticides.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG), which has conducted extensive studies of pesticide residue in fresh produce, is famous for its handy Shopper's Guide, also available as a free iTunes app. The Guide lists the "Dirty Dozen" (the 12 most contaminated fruits and vegetables) as well as the least contaminated "Clean 15."

The "dirtiest" produce includes peaches, apples, strawberries, blueberries, nectarines, celery, and grapes—foods that also happen to be highly kid-friendly.

As EWG explains, there is a "growing consensus among scientists is that small doses of pesticides and other chemicals can cause lasting damage to human health, especially during fetal development and early childhood."

With more and more parents opting to feed their children organic food, and a new study linking higher pesticide residues in children's urine to increased rates of ADHD, the silence on this topic is more than a little surprising.

Whether parents will speak up and ask the USDA to support organic agriculture for their children remains to be seen.

Elizabeth Gordon | Facebook
Elizabeth is an Asian-Appalachian writer, activist, and college professor living in north central Massachusetts. Once an avowed carnivore, she was a vegetarian for 15 years before making the conversion to veganism. She is passionate about trying to live a life that lessens, rather than contributes to, the amount of cruelty and suffering in this world. Follow Elizabeth on her Vegosphere blog and Facebook page.

Photo credit:cc:flickr.com/photos/muammer