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Seriously, What Is a Funyun?

In Feruary, Barack Obama signed a memorandum to establish a  Task Force on Childhood Obesity , including the launch of  Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign  to address childhood obesity and nutrition. One day earlier, British chef Jamie Oliver won a  2010 TED award , which will help him to launch a cross-industry initiative to fight obesity by educating families about food. This week we will be looking at childhood nutrition by highlighting books and articles that have passed through our library of late.  –The Editors 

Cafeteria ChroniclesA pair of eleven year-old girls from Manhattan sit at a conference table with two executives from the New York City Department of Education: the Executive Chef and the CEO. Without sounding contrived, as the same question from a parent might have, one of the girls asks, “What does healthy food mean to you?” The gentlemen explain how nutrition and hunger have informed school feeding programs over the years, and how low federal reimbursements are getting in the way of really reforming the quality of food in schools. I don’t know what’s more fresh: the girls’ curiosity about the system or the gentlemen’s frankness with them.

The film is full of moments like this: two clearheaded and curious kids demanding real answers from powerful adults. Sadie Hope-Gund and Safiyah Riddle are best friends, both from mixed-race families. They spend a year educating themselves about a food system most adults barely understand. Sadie and Safiyah want to know why produce that is also grown in their home state is instead trucked in from far away places; how food affects their health (one girl has hereditary high cholesterol) and the health of their parents; and how cost—and neighborhood—mediates access to healthy food. They speak to their families and to friends, doctors, school administrators, farmers, politicians, and even poets. Sadie's mother is one of the film's producers, and likely the unseen hand in what comes off as the remarkable initiative of two ambitious young people. But that hardly gets in the way.

The girls return to their old elementary school with poet-teacher Idris Goodwin, who performs his spoken word piece “What is they feedin’ our kids?” to young students at their alma mater. Walking with Goodwin outside the school, the girls find an empty Funyuns bag on the sidewalk. They read the contents aloud to strike a joke, from Goodwin’s poem, that runs throughout the film: Seriously, what is a Funyun?

Read the rest of the Cafeteria Chronicles posts...