The National School Lunch Program has always been a dumping ground for surplus commodity crops.

FERN’s Friday Feed: Radical lunch lady; Louisiana tribes face a rising sea; and fleece in your fish

Revenge of the lunch lady

FERN & Huffington Post’s Highline

When British celebrity chef Jamie Oliver came to Huntington, W.Va., to shoot his reality television show “Food Revolution,” he promised to revamp school food in the country’s least-healthy city. He put mint in the students’ peas and dashed cinnamon into their chili. But when he left, 77 percent of students said they were “very unhappy” with his posh alternatives. On the show, Rhonda McCoy, Cabell County’s “uptight and slightly menacing schools food-service director, reminded the chef that his revolution had to conform to the government’s endless standards and regulations,” writes Jane Black. But if she annoyed Oliver, it was McCoy who eventually did what he couldn’t. Boosting the school lunch participation by 15 percent, she tweaked his recipes to appeal to local tastes, while using fresh ingredients and maximizing nutrition.

McCoy was able to turn Cabell County’s lunch program into a national model in large part by leveraging the Community Eligibility Provision, an obscure provision in the 2010 federal child-nutrition overhaul that allows schools in poor districts to provide free lunches to all students, regardless of income. CEP helps districts avoid the bureaucratic burden of figuring out whether kids qualify for lunch, and instead steers money toward better ingredients, kitchen equipment and cooks’ salaries. But the GOP wants the provision axed. “In 2014, now-House Speaker Paul Ryan said that public assistance, including school lunch, offered a ‘full stomach and an empty soul’ because it made kids reliant on government handouts,” writes Black. If Ryan and others win, “more than 7,000 schools, feeding nearly 3.4 million kids, will once again have to start charging for some meals” and McCoy may have to go back to serving pizza and tater tots.

Louisiana’s tribes refuse to let their foodways drown under rising seas

FERN and The Lens and Gravy (audio)

A few decades ago, the Pointe-au-Chien tribal members of Louisiana “fed themselves well — with seafood, of course, but also with the livestock they raised, the fruits and vegetables they planted, and the marsh hens they extricated from their fur traps. They hunted for turtle and alligator, too, and gathered medicinal plants from the land,” says Barry Yeoman. But then the tides, driven higher by climate change, started to eat up the tribe’s territory. “The area immediately around Terrebonne Bay, which includes Pointe-au-Chien, went from 10 percent water in 1916 to 90 percent in 2016,” says Yeoman. With fewer places to put a garden or raise livestock and less terrain to hunt and forage for wild plants, the tribe turned to processed foods. As the water rose, so did their rates of diabetes and cholesterol levels. Even the fish that they had long harvested from the sea were hurt by the BP oil spill in 2010 and the destruction of wetlands, where many species hatch their young. But the Pointe-au-Chien tribe, along with other native groups in the area, is determined to maintain its food sovereignty in the face of environmental damage. It’s an inspiring effort that “might inform all of us about how to feed ourselves during these times of environmental stress,” says Yeoman.

Friends don’t let farmed fish eat fish


“People eat 150 million tons of seafood every year, and as of 2014, more than half of all those fish, shrimp, and bivalves are raised on farms,” says Wired. The problem is that most of those farmed fish are fed other fish, like anchovies and sardines, which marine species from whales to sea lions depend on. The supply can’t keep up with the demand. Which brings us to the Fish-Free-Feed challenge, an international race to come up with the next big thing in fish feed. From black-soldier-fly larvae to ground up pistachios, participating scientists are vying to be the first to invent a new kind of commercial fish feed that won’t leave the oceans hungrier.

There’s probably fleece in that fish fillet


Synthetic fleece jackets are exceptional at keeping you warm; but they’re also great at leaching microbeads of plastic into the environment. “Peer-reviewed studies have shown that these synthetic microfibers — a type of plastic smaller than a millimeter in length and made up of various synthetic polymers — have popped up in table salt in China, in arctic waters and in fish caught off the coast of California. These tiny fibers make up 85 percent of human debris on shorelines across the globe, according to a 2011 study,” says NPR. Scientists have found that each wash of a faux-fleece jacket releases about two grams of plastic, which experts think likely ends up in seafood. “I have no doubt that every time I eat oysters and mussels I eat at least one microfiber,” says one researcher.

What Trump’s team should do for food and farm policy


It’s tough to predict what a Trump administration will mean for food and farm policy. But here’s what some experts hope (and expect) the Trump crew will do, from passing a comprehensive farm bill (“There is a ticking time bomb, and it’s the aging of our farms and farmers,” says former Agriculture Secretary Kathleen Merrigan. “I’ve visited dairy farms where farmers are in their 80s, working seven days a week, 365 days a year) to preserving government food assistance (“We cannot rely on charity to resolve hunger — the scale of food insecurity is just too large,” says Sharon Feuer Gruber, co-founder of Food Works Group, D.C.-based consultants).

Photo of camel burger by Sam Kaplan