Danielle Bock went to Washington, DC last month to find out how to better serve students in the Greeley-Evans School District.
For the past 5 1/2 years, Bock has worked as a business director in the district. Bock’s trip to Washington in late September showed her the need to better educate students about food, nutrition and its huge impact on a person’s overall health.
Bock was among the more than 500 attendees at the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition and Health, a daylong event Sept. 28 at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center.
“It was about food and health and how food plays a role in preventing disease,” Bock said this week. “It was absolutely inspiring and the best day of my professional life.”
As an active and avid school nutrition professional, Bock’s name ended up on guest lists compiled by the US Department of Agriculture, the US Department of Health and Human Services and other agencies based on recommendations from others in fields focused on hunger, health and nutrition.
Bock and her department are deeply concerned about the quality of food and the availability of good, healthy food for District 6 students and all individuals.
“In dietary services, we have a value, and that value is that food is a basic human right,” Bock told the District 6 Board of Education in August. “It’s not a privilege. And we see it as our responsibility to ensure access to healthy, nutritious food for all of our students.”
Bock knew the White House conference would take place this year, but she didn’t get the date until a few weeks before. Coincidentally, she already had plans to be in Washington for another industry-related conference — with the International Fresh Produce Association scheduled for Sept. 26-28.
Bock said she joined the IFPA with the intention of learning how to bring more fruits and vegetables to schools. The IFPA invited Bock to its event and covered the costs of her travel. She made good use of her three-night stay in Washington.
Bock arrived in Washington on September 26 and met with other school nutrition professionals, as well as representatives from the USDA and the office of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi before attending the White House conference. All of this was related to her involvement in the IFPA.
Part of the Biden administration’s National Strategy on Hunger, Nutrition and Health, the White House conference was held for the first time in more than 50 years and included speakers and break-out sessions.
The breakout sessions aligned with the five pillars of the national strategy, Bock said:
- Improving food access and affordability;
- Integrating diet and health;
- Empower all consumers to make and have access to healthy choices;
- Support physical activity for all; and
- Improving nutrition and food safety research.
“Over the past 50 years, we have learned so much more about nutrition and the role that healthy eating plays in how our children perform in the classroom and about nutrition and its links to disease prevention,” President Joe Biden wrote in a letter launching the strategy on 44 pages. “This important conference and the commitment to a national strategy to end hunger and healthier diets will build on the research and knowledge we now have to truly make America a stronger, healthier nation.”
Biden spoke at the conference, and the list of other speakers included U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, U.S. Health Secretary Xavier Becerra, U.S. Sens. Debbie Stabenow, Mike Braun and Cory Booker, New York City Mayor Eric Adams and chef Jose Andres, who is known for his culinary and humanitarian work. Susan Rice, one-time director of ambassadors for the US Domestic Policy Council, moderated the conference.
The conference participants came from different walks of life. Only six nutrition experts at the school participated, Bock said, along with doctors, other researchers and advocates such as individuals receiving benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance program — formerly known as food stamps.
Some of the other participants were people who worked in urban areas, created urban farms and used the space to help others learn to cook and grow food and teach about diet-related diseases.
“How can we give people a bonus? How can we change a system when people in poverty suffer from diet-related diseases because fruit is more expensive?” Bock asked.
Bock left the conference with a determination and better understanding of the importance of having meal periods included in the schools’ teaching minutes each day so that students more actively learn nutrition education.
“We can give kids healthy meals, but if we don’t teach kids about what they’re putting in their bodies and how it affects them, what’s the point?” she asked.
Proposition FF: “It must end”
Colorado voters this fall will have a say on school meals with Proposition FF, a legislative statute that allows voters to decide whether all school meals will once again be free for all students.
Proposition FF would reduce the income tax credit amounts for those earning $300,000 or more. The money would come from limiting itemized and regular state income tax credits and creating and funding the “Healthy School Meals for All” program. Participating districts can then provide free meals to students and provide schools with local food purchase grants and school food-related funding, according to Ballotpedia.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, the USDA initiated emergency measures in the Families First Coronavirus Response Act to allow school districts to provide food to students through suspensions at no cost. The waivers were extended through the 2020-21 and 2021-22 school years but expired earlier this year, meaning the loss of federal funding for food program operators including school districts.
Bock said that while Proposition FF isn’t the ideal solution to feeding all Colorado students at no cost, its passage would provide a solution for some school districts — which can work with complicated legislation.
Bock worries if FF doesn’t do well on the ballot, state legislators will take it as a sign that school meals are unpopular with voters, leading to reluctance to take up future legislation.
“It has to pass,” Bock said. “It’s going to be so great when we get the public to understand that meals are part of a student’s day and that it shouldn’t be a separate assistance program for a school district.”