Friedman Policy Corner: Massachusetts Bill Seeks to Ban School Lunch-Shaming

by Alana Davidson

The Massachusetts Law Reform Institute released a report this Spring on lunch shaming in Massachusetts schools. Lunch shaming is when children are denied a meal or given an alternative cold cheese sandwich because they cannot afford the food. Read more about this issue and what legislation has been put forward to address it!

“Denying children food and humiliating them because they are poor are not the values by which most residents of Massachusetts live. We can stop lunch shaming in Massachusetts and by doing so, continue to be the nation’s leader when it comes to education and child welfare.” – Patricia Baker, MLRI Senior Policy Analyst

In public schools across Massachusetts, children line up every day for lunch and fill their trays with healthy, nutritious food. Some children, however, may get to the front of the cafeteria line only to have their lunch tossed into the garbage in front of their friends, or have their hot meal swapped for a cold cheese sandwich because they don’t have enough money for food or have previously accumulated meal debt. A recent report from the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute (MLRI) examined meal debt policies across the state and found disturbing results. Schools prohibited students, and their siblings, with meal debt from participating in field trips, graduation and after school activities, and withheld report cards and grades. Even worse, schools referred families with school meal debt to the Department of Children and Families (DCF) or referred them to outside loan collection agencies that tend to have high interest rates and fees. These unacceptable “lunch-shaming” policies stigmatize low-income students and their families and leave children hungry and ashamed.

Why does “lunch-shaming” exist in U.S. schools? The National School Lunch Program (NSLP) provides free or reduced-price meals to children who participate in certain federal assistance programs, are homeless or in foster care, or have an income at or below 185% of the federal poverty line. However, some families that qualify for the program may not be enrolled and even those with an income too high to qualify may still struggle to afford food. Feeding America’s Map the Meal Gap found that 33% of food insecure people in Massachusetts have an income too high to qualify for federal assistance programs. The School Nutrition Association found in their nationwide 2016 survey that 76% of school districts had unpaid student meal debt and 38% of schools reported an increase in the number of free and reduced-price meal students who could not afford lunch.

In 2016 the USDA released rules that “no later than July 1, 2017, all SFAs [schools] operating NSLP and/or SBP [school breakfast] must have a written and clearly communicated meal charge policy in order to ensure a consistent and transparent approach to this issue.” However, MLRI’s recent report found that among schools examined 30% of elementary schools and 28% of secondary schools had no publically posted meal charge policies. Still more it was hard to find the policies that did exist, which were in student handbooks or school committee rules. Student handbooks can be hundreds of pages long. Schools need to post their meal charge policies in a place that is easy for families to find and access.

I filed this legislation because no child should be shamed for being hungry. Every child deserves access to a healthy, nutritious school lunch and this legislation will ensure that students in Massachusetts can access the meals they need to grow and learn.” – Senator Cynthia Stone Creem (D. Newton)

It is time for Massachusetts to join New Mexico, California, Oregon and Washington State in banning these shameful practices and ensure that every child in the state is provided a healthy, nutritious school meal regardless of ability to pay. Senator Creem and Representative Vargas hope to do just that with their new bill (S.2390/H.4422). This bill bans all of the following with regards to a child’s inability to pay for a meal or a previously incurred meal debt: throwing out a meal, publicly identifying a student, excluding a student and the student’s siblings from extracurricular activities and school events, withholding reports cards or grades, denying or delaying a reimbursable meal to a student, and charging families fees and costs beyond what is owed for the meal. It also requires that all communication about meal debt is conducted with the parents rather than the child, which is currently not the case.  It should not be the child’s responsibility to deal with this issue, and the DCF should not be notified due to meal debt alone. In addition, the bill works to maximize federal reimbursements and minimize meal debt by outlining how often schools must check and enroll students who directly qualify for NSLP (TANF, SNAP, Medicaid recipients; foster child, homeless, migrant). For the students with meal debt who do not directly qualify for NSLP, schools are required to send parents information regarding SNAP and a NSLP application.

Finally, the bill includes language that schools and/or districts with 40% or more economically disadvantaged students must elect into the community eligibility provision (CEP), with exemptions. This provision came out of the Obama Administration and allows schools where 40% or more of students directly qualify for NSLP to serve free breakfast and lunch to all students. To learn more about CEP, check out the Food Research & Action Center’s guide. Currently, there are many schools in Massachusetts that qualify for CEP but have not enrolled, including Amesbury Public Schools, Conservatory Lab Charter Schools, Fall River Public Schools and Lynn Public Schools. CEP can lead to higher federal reimbursements for schools, increase participation in NSLP, and reduce administrative costs.

The bill has received a committee extension order, meaning it has more time to be acted on by the committee before this session ends (e.g. reported out of committee favorably). There will be a hearing on the bill in May. Call your state legislators and tell them to ban school lunch shaming and to support this bill! You can find contact information for your state legislator here. No child should be denied a healthy, nutritious meal or stigmatized because he or she cannot afford it. Let’s ensure all children in Massachusetts have access to healthy, nutritious food in school so they can succeed today and into the future.

Alana Davidson is a first year MS candidate in the Food Policy and Applied Nutrition program and one of the founding members of FFPAC. For the last three years she has interned in the anti-hunger field at the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC), Share Our Strength, and End Hunger Connecticut!. Her research and advocacy have centered on domestic food insecurity and nutrition-related issues. Davidson also contributed to MLRI’s anti-lunch shaming report.

The Friedman Food Policy Action Council (FFPAC) is a student-run organization of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University. Our mission is to advance evidence-based nutrition and agricultural policies in support of public and environmental health, by equipping students with the skills and relationships necessary to impact policy through advocacy. For more information, or to join FFPAC, please contact friedmanfpac@gmail.com.

 

Reflections on Equity: FJL Takes on the Racial Equity Habit-Building Challenge

by Friedman Justice League

Making time for reflection in our busy lives can be difficult. In April 2018, Friedman’s Committee on Social Justice, Inclusion, and Diversity (CSJID) invited the school to do just that by participating in a 21-Day Racial Equity Habit-Building Challenge. Students from the Friedman Justice League (FJL) reflect on what they felt and learned during the challenge, and on the implications of these learnings for the school’s community.

In an effort to foster a stronger culture of inclusion, the Committee on Social Justice, Inclusion, and Diversity (CSJID) invited the entire Friedman community to participate in Food Solutions New England’s (FSNE) 21-Day Racial Equity Habit-Building Challenge. The CSJID is a multidisciplinary committee of faculty, students, and staff of Friedman committed to finding ways to promote social justice, inclusion and diversity in its teaching, research, and programs. The three-week challenge took place from April 2 to April 23 and creates time and space for a community to come together to build better social justice habits, particularly those dealing with issues of race, power, privilege, and leadership. These habits range from the personal, such as identifying and deconstructing our own biases, to the institutional, where we think through ways to advance racial justice in our schools and organizations.

To complement the challenge, the CSJID also hosted three informal lunchtime chats every Tuesday to encourage us to find community and connect with each other as we attempt to identify ways we can personally work to dismantle racism and become leaders for a more just, equitable food system.

During the lunchtime meetings, faculty, students and staff of Friedman gathered to share their personal responses to the 21-day challenge, and mull on some of the awkwardness of living out one’s conviction here at the Friedman School, and beyond. Thinking critically about our own biases and race is difficult, but necessary, and having a community of support helps.

Below are the reflections of several members of the Friedman Justice League (FJL) who participated in the challenge. Each one serves as a peek into the diversity of reactions the challenge inspired in the Friedman community. We hope these reflections help others find solidarity through their own process of discovery.

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Conversations on race and racism with people of backgrounds different than my own often leave me with a pit in my stomach. I think and rethink about what I said, how I said it, what I should have said, whether I unintentionally offended someone… I tend to get worked up during these conversations, and approaching them with grace is an artform that has thus far eluded me.

As a Latina female that grew up in a low-income neighborhood, I feel a unique responsibility to ‘shake things up’ and ask the hard questions. I struggle with striking the delicate balance between getting my genuine thoughts across and being considerate of people’s different experiences.

The most enriching part of the challenge for me were the lunchtime conversations. Each conversation created a platform for us to ask hard questions in a welcoming environment. We talked about the “micro” and the “macro,” our personal experiences with race and racism and how they impact the entire food supply chain. I tried (not always successfully) to listen, to be thoughtful, and to approach these conversations with empathy and an open mind. Reflecting on these difficult conversations was uncomfortable and hard, which requires immense vulnerability. I deeply believe that venturing out of our comfort zone to talk about these things is the first step to building bridges and creating an equitable food system. I am grateful for the opportunity to try.

– Alejandra Cabrera, NICBC ‘18

 

Growing up in a Latinx household, we often had discussions about culture, race, and social justice. Throughout my educational career I have sought out spaces to continue to have these important conversations. Being involved in FJL and the CSJID has allowed me to take an active role in promoting equity at Friedman and our food system. Participating in the 21-Day Racial Equity Habit-Building Challenge was a great way to reflect each day about how I can be more intentional about addressing these issues both personally and professionally.

One important topic that came up during the challenge was how to build our own capacity for discomfort. We have to become comfortable with discomfort in order to push our growing-edge and transform as human beings. These conversations about race are not easy, but if we approach them with humanity and understanding they can be extremely powerful. I was able to attend the last lunchtime chat. It was wonderful to speak with people of the Friedman community, including professors, staff and fellow students, and share our experiences with race, power and privilege. We all come from different backgrounds and perspectives, but we all had a common desire to connect and shed light on the injustices that exist in our world.

– Alyssa Melendez, AFE ‘19

 

Two of the anecdotes from the 21-Day Challenge ended up being the most impactful for me.

  1. A woman’s young, black niece who straightens her dark curly hair and then runs to her aunt delighted because now she finally looks like a princess. The aunt’s narrative and reflections on this story helped me come up with a couple questions: Who created a given standard, system or object? What demographic do they represent? Were the implications for equity and racial justice considered? Why do I think certain things are beautiful or good? What and who does that beauty represent? Who does this beauty value and who does it erase? I think these questions can be used as a frame of analysis to help identify some of the ways in which everyday assumptions uphold white privilege and to uncover personal, implicit biases.
  2. In her soil-health analogy, Camara Jones’ compared the nutrients in the soil to the “nutrients”, or access goods, services, and opportunities, in a society. Communities and institutions that both historically had and currently still have fewer “nutrients” continue to produce and reproduce disproportionate outcomes for people of color, along the lines of education, health, home ownership and employment. The analogy was clear, relevant to Friedman, and worth a watch!

In reflecting on Friedman Justice League’s Lunch n Learns and the work we’ve done this year, I realize that conversations with professors and faculty have been quite fruitful and enjoyable. However, we might not even be at that stage yet. Perhaps more structural work needs to be done to establish a more supportive foundation for individual actors to make an impact – for individual professors to adjust their curriculum, for example.

I think a very productive collaboration between the CSJID and FJL next year could be to use the “Assessing our organization” assessment tool from Day 10 to “check our readiness to move a racial justice agenda forward”.

– Tessa Salzman, AFE/UEP ‘18

 

Especially at this hectic time in the semester, I was grateful just to enjoy conversation and hear from more personal reflections from the Friedman community . The common ground between faculty, staff and students felt like a safe, exploratory to celebrate, lament, even confess. Even when we’re trying to do our best — we’re all human — it’s a process.

– Julie Kurtz, AFE/MPH ‘18

 

An unspoken justification for not working to improve equity at a given organization is that the people don’t have the time, resources or knowledge to lead this effort. The Friedman Justice League has asked ourselves this question: How do we start without a clear path forward? The resources from Day 10 provided a practical, approachable first step: an assessment of where we currently stand as a collective way to acknowledge our existing progress and our future potential.

The Friedman Justice League seeks to make our community more diverse and find ways to allow the Friedman community to better address issues of discrimination and oppression in its teachings, research, and programs.

Policy Corner: The $2.4 Billion Cost of Hunger

by Emily Cavanaugh

In February of this year, the Greater Boston Food Bank released a report on the hidden costs of hunger and food insecurity in Massachusetts. For the Policy Corner this month, Emily Cavanaugh reports on what the report’s findings mean for public health policy in the Commonwealth.

The Greater Boston Food Bank recently partnered with Children’s Health Watch on a report, released this February, documenting the hidden costs of food insecurity in the state of Massachusetts.  This first-of-its-kind study was commissioned as part of the mission of Children’s Health Watch to “inform public policies and practices that give all children equal opportunities for healthy, successful lives”. Children’s Health Watch is headquartered at Boston Medical Center, where the health effects of hunger can be seen firsthand.

The report states that these health effects cost the commonwealth a whopping $2.4 billion in 2016. High cholesterol, anxiety and depression, asthma, and diabetes were just a few of the conditions the study related to hunger. Indirect costs incurred by anxiety, behavioral problems, inattention or ADHD by food insecure children were also captured. Lastly, the study sought to account for work absence and lack of productivity caused by the related health conditions.

Costs of various diseases and poor health outcomes caused by hunger, as estimated by the study. (Image: MACostOfHunger.org)

Costs of various diseases and poor health outcomes caused by hunger, as estimated by the study. (Image: MACostOfHunger.org)

Though it’s difficult to prove certain causality by these methods, the study concluded that “as with the relationships between smoking tobacco and lung, throat and mouth cancers, the evidence of relationships between food insecurity and these health outcomes is so strong … that we believe we are justified in acting on strong evidence even if it is not absolutely conclusive and unassailable.” The combination of poverty and food insecurity contribute to poor health and educational issues and create a feedback loop, reinforcing the poverty that is the root cause of hunger.  While this study didn’t address racial disparities in food insecurity, a 2017 pamphlet from bread.org states that people of color in Massachusetts are 3 times more likely to face poverty and hunger, and in 2016, Children’s Health Watch reported significantly higher rates of hunger among immigrant families.  Intervening to address food insecurity can help to breaking that poverty-health-education feedback loop, enabling wellness and opportunity for all the Commonwealth’s residents.

Having established that hunger is a public health issue, how do we address it? The study makes recommendations in 3 main areas – healthcare practices, policy at the federal and local level, and academia. In the healthcare industry, we can consistently screen for hunger and intervene as necessary, pointing patients and parents to resources like SNAP and food banks.  GBFB has partnered with nine medical providers in the state, including three in Boston to implement the Hunger Vital Sign two-question that screening tool for food insecurity. As healthcare providers see the evidence of hunger during doctor’s visits, they are uniquely positioned to connect families in need with the available resources. Therefore partnerships between doctors and hospitals, foods banks, and other assistance programs could be very effective.

On a national policy level, the upcoming Farm Bill could contain changes to nutrition assistance programs, and the study recommends that lawmakers be pressured not to reduce SNAP funding. Reduction in funding could lead to reduction in the number of families served or amount of food dollars granted to each family, further reducing support that is already sometimes inadequate.

At the state level, lawmakers can mandate “breakfast after the bell” programs, especially in low-income communities. Several communities, from Boston to Worcester to Chicopee have implemented breakfast after the bell and have seen increases in attendance, and decreases in tardiness and nurse visits. The state could also increase funding for WIC and the Massachusetts Emergency Food Assistance Program. The CDC has acknowledged the link between nutrition, health, and academic performance, meaning hunger can limit the academic potential of children and should be addressed to provide more equality in our school systems. Access should be improved to state and federal assistance programs, first by creating a common application for MassHealth, SNAP, and WIC benefits. Filling out one set of forms to access multiple benefits would increase participation, particularly for those who are on the edge of qualifying for assistance.

We can all contact our representatives at the state and local level to bring these causes to their attention. You can find your legislator here, or contact legislators serving on specific committees such as public health or education. Contact your city or town officials to inquire about school food programs. Call a SNAP outreach partner organization and help residents enroll in SNAP programs.

Lastly, in academia, we can undertake research that supports these policy recommendations and sheds light on the causes and effects of hunger in our community.  Research regarding vulnerable populations can help target nutrition assistance where it is needed most. Though interventional studies are challenging to carry out, they provide strong evidence for effective solutions. A stronger causal link between hunger and health outcomes would strengthen the argument that food insecurity is a public health issue that needs to be prioritized in policy making.  Lastly, a review of costs to implement some of the recommended programs, compared to the annual $2.4 billion cost of adverse outcomes could make a compelling, black and white case for addressing hunger as a public health issue.

Emily Cavanaugh is a professional in the medical diagnostics industry with a Bachelor’s degree in biology and a persistent passion for nutrition.  After years of reading Marion Nestle books and following FFPAC on twitter, she decided to get involved by writing a Policy Corner article. She is also an enthusiastic home cook, bread baker, and gym goer.

Friedman Hosts the 2018 Global Food+ Symposium

by Sam Jones

The second annual Global Food+ Symposium was hosted at Tufts University’s Friedman School this year. Innovative research being conducted at Tufts, MIT, Boston University, and Harvard University in the realm of the global food system was presented in speed-dating style, with each speaker giving only a seven-minute talk. Only some of the takeaways are reported here; the entire event can be viewed online.

February 16, 2018 marked the second annual Global Food+ Symposium, hosted by Tufts University at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy. This year, 23 researchers from Boston University, MIT, Harvard, and Tufts shared the findings of their work in seven-minute presentations on topics ranging from microbiology to nutrition to theology. I attended the conference in its entirety from 12:30 to 4:30 on a Friday afternoon because I wanted to learn about what other researching in our consortium of schools are investigating to gain insight into what the non-Friedman community has to say about the global food system.

Throughout the afternoon, speakers presented fascinating research that touched every corner of the food system. Several presenters from Harvard and MIT discussed how water affects our food system, covering everything from breeding crops to use less water, to developing more adaptable water conserving technologies, and the ramifications of developing a water market in which price reflects scarcity. These speakers together illustrated that whether in the Zambezi River Basin or in Melbourne, Australia, water use and availability affects our food system, but there are steps we can take right now to plan for uncertainty in the face of climate change.

Nutrition was, of course, the subject of several of the presentations. Tufts professor Will Masters discussed his findings on the nutritional quality of baby food. Spoiler alert: the global baby food supply is not actually that nutritious. Alison Brown, a post-doctoral fellow at Tufts presented the research from her dissertation comparing the diet quality and risk of hypertension in foreign-born non-Hispanic blacks to those of U.S.-born blacks. Her findings suggest that the former are better-off than the latter. While useful for developing culturally-appropriate nutrition strategies, it does not delve into the root causes of these differences. A more causal-based study would be useful if the intention were to narrow the gap in diet quality and health between these groups.

Most of the presenters at the symposium used or researched cutting-edge technology to answer some of the most vexing problems in our global food system. Karthish Manthiram from MIT, for example, presented his research on how electricity derived from solar panels can be used to create fertilizer. His research found that by using electric voltage in place of high temperatures, a low-footprint nitrogen fertilizer can be created and used by small-scale farmers in even the remotest parts of Africa.

Angela Rigden, a post-doctoral fellow at Harvard University, presented exciting research derived from new satellite data. These data showed that vapor pressure and root zone soil moisture actually explain significantly more variability in crop yields than does temperature alone. Both Jenny Aker from Tufts and Alicia Harley from Harvard separately explored the effects of having access to technology for poor farmers in Africa and India, respectively. They found that even where a technology exists, the targeted problems may not be solved in exactly the way they were intended. For example, Alicia Harley’s research found that poorer rice farmers were not adopting a system of rice intensification (SRI) that used less water because such a practice required control over one’s water source—a luxury most poor farmers do not have. As Jenny Aker put it, one specific technology is “not going to be a silver bullet.”

Water, technology, health, and sustainability were the overarching themes that wove the presentations together. But one researcher stood alone both in his discipline and in his ability to wow an audience of entirely dissimilar mindsets. Dan McKanan, a senior lecturer in Divinity at Harvard University, revealed that the foundations of organic agriculture, organic certification, WWOOFing, biodynamic agriculture, community supported agriculture, and the environmentalist movement all sprung out of a religion called Anthroposophy. In his words, this was a religion that acted as an antidote to the ideological monoculture system—an antidote to the “monocultures of the mind.”

What the innovative research presented at the Global Food+ Symposium made me realize is that there probably will never be a “silver bullet” that can solve the issues of water scarcity, food insecurity, malnutrition, or climate change. But the research that is being done in these interdisciplinary and diverse fields is worth pursuing, whether it aims to solve a big problem in a small place or a small problem on a global scale.

Sam Jones is a first-year AFE student with a passion for sharing others’ stories. She is currently an intern at Culture Magazine nd hopes to pursue a career in sustainable agricultural development and food journalism.

The Return of Jumbo’s Kitchen

by Theo Fitopoulos

Jumbo’s Kitchen is entering its ninth year as a program at the Friedman School. Now under new leadership, Tufts students are hoping to grow the program to better serve the needs of those in our community. Jumbo’s Kitchen volunteers will have the opportunity to empower students at the nearby Josiah Quincy Elementary School through cooking and nutrition education. Learn more about what is in store this semester, and how you can get involved!

It is that time of year again! Students of the Tufts Health Sciences schools now have the chance to teach children in the local community about having fun, gaining confidence, and making healthy choices through cooking and nutrition education. Jumbo’s Kitchen returns this spring, giving students the opportunity to volunteer at the nearby Josiah Quincy Elementary School to teach the basics of cooking and nutrition. This year the Jumbo’s Kitchen team is also aiming to teach the students about gardening and growing their own food.

Student Simon Ye teaching at a Jumbo's Kitchen session in Spring 2017

Student Simon Ye teaching at a Jumbo’s Kitchen session in Spring 2017.

Jumbo’s Kitchen started at the Friedman School in 2009 and despite operating in different schools around Boston, the mission remains the same: to promote an understanding of nutrition and introduce basic cooking skills to empower kids to develop healthy eating habits. Simon Ye, a PhD candidate at the Friedman School, began volunteering with Jumbo’s Kitchen as a Curriculum Development Chair during the 2015-16 school year. When asked why he wanted to get involved initially, Ye said, “Personally speaking I love cooking and working with kids, so taking this role was ideal for me to serve the community in a way that I really enjoy.” Partnering with the Josiah Quincy Elementary School offers the Friedman the opportunity to build a sense of community with our neighbors and volunteer with young students at an age when it’s more important than ever to develop healthy eating habits.

As a first-year student at Tufts Medical School, Vanessa Yu was looking for different volunteering opportunities offered through the school. When she learned about the Jumbo’s Kitchen program, she was eager to get involved: “Going into Tufts Med, I knew I wanted to find a way to engage with the local community. Tufts is the only medical school to be located in a Chinatown, which is a really unique position to be in, in terms of understanding how to interact with a different community and culture. It’s important for students on the Boston campus to be cognizant of the lives that their patients lead, and programs like Jumbo’s Kitchen are a great way to gain that awareness. By spending a few hours each week with students of the Josiah Quincy School, we’ll get to learn about the littlest members of our community and discover what’s most important to them.”

Josiah Quincy students learn how to make smoothies.

Josiah Quincy students learn how to make smoothies.

Jumbo’s Kitchen also provides a valuable experience for volunteers. Not only are they able to help neighbors in our community develop healthy eating habits, but Jumbo’s Kitchen volunteers also gain experience developing lessons and teaching nutrition in a classroom setting. Some of the sessions in this year’s Jumbo’s Kitchen curriculum include an introduction to food groups and the USDA MyPlate, basic cooking techniques, serving sizes, healthy snacking, and field trips to the Friedman School garden and a local Chinatown grocery store. Each week will feature a different food that fits the specific lesson, and students will keep track of what they learn in their own journals, so they can share lessons with their families at home.

The time commitment for Jumbo’s Kitchen volunteers includes lesson planning, food shopping for the week, and class time. Classes will take place on eight different Fridays this semester at the Josiah Quincy Elementary School. This year’s curriculum has the Jumbo’s Kitchen board very excited, and we have a great group of volunteers ready to start the semester; however there is always room for more students to get involved. Simon Ye has seen the benefit of the program to the kids first-hand: “Jumbo’s Kitchen’s goal is to teach kids basic nutrition and food preparation skills. I believe that developing a positive and active relationship with what we eat is critical for leading a healthy lifestyle in the long run. I wish that when I was a kid someone could have helped me understand what food is in a way that Jumbo’s Kitchen is now doing. I can tell that many of the kids enjoy our classes and learned something that they will carry later on.”

To get involved with Jumbo’s Kitchen contact Vanessa Yu at vanessa.yu@tufts.edu. Be sure to keep up with Jumbo’s Kitchen this semester by following us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, using @jumboskitchen!

Theo Fitopoulos is a second-year student in the Food Policy and Applied Nutrition program, and current intern at the Tufts Health Science Public Relations Office. In his free time, he enjoys sampling the burgeoning Boston restaurant scene, experimenting with traditional Greek recipes in his own kitchen, and playing basketball and tennis when the weather permits.

Opening the Unpaid Internship Opportunity: Friedman’s New Direct Service Scholarship

by Julie Kurtz for Friedman Justice League

In February, Friedman students launched a Crowdfund Campaign for a Direct Service Internship Scholarship. In the video, witness the stories of past students who engaged in direct service internships. If you’re a first-year student, consider applying for the scholarship. And everyone: the campaign has 7 days left—donate and share to support service learning at Friedman! #Give2Serve 

“Is it paid? Ugh, bummer.”

“Nope, can’t do it.”

“Please tell me there’s a stipend…”

We’ve heard this story from Friedman students searching for their summer internships. Despite great interest in working for organizations that align with their passions and professional goals, they simply can’t swing an unpaid summer internship.

During a Faculty-Student Lunch n’ Learn last December, Friedman Justice League (FJL) heard a related need: faculty and student participants identified service learning as a gap in our Friedman education.

To address these two challenges, FJL initiated a crowdfund campaign to raise $4,000, enough to fund one student for a 10-week, direct service summer internship. Since many service and social-justice oriented internships cannot offer a stipend, the scholarship will support students in pursuing their desire to serve when funding opportunities are limited. Though initiated by FJL, it’s a community-wide effort! Faculty have been donating, Dean Mozaffarian has tweeted, and the administration has affirmed their support for this critical student effort.

Despite the modest financial goal, the impact will be sizable. Beyond the lifelong impact on the recipient and the service provided to the organization, the internship will nurture a relationship between community partners and Friedman.

 

What does this mean for students?

  • If you are a first-year student, please consider applying! Friedman administration will choose a recipient whose internship meets the values of the scholarship. All unpaid service or social justice internships are eligible!
  • Donate and share! The campaign runs till March 8th. Every little bit helps, and so does sharing the campaign with your friends and networks!

 

What do we mean by direct service?

It can mean many things, but here are two examples from Friedman alums:

  • Alison Brown, PhD developed a program called ‘Keep it Real: Better Food for Better Health’ at a community fitness center in Dorchester. Her program worked with women and children to cultivate fitness and nutrition skills for healthier lifestyles. It was memorable for Alison to see people grow healthier and become excited about cooking healthy foods. For Alison, direct service is about empowering disenfranchised communities while paving the way for rooted and relevant policy change.
  • As a Master’s student at Friedman, Dan Hatfield, PhD led a walking and running-based physical activity program for 6th grade boys in East Boston. Dan worked directly with the community to develop an evidence-based program. The boys learned to set, track, and accomplish their physical fitness goals. Dan, in turn, was inspired to pursue a PhD and continues to do work that bridges the gap between research and practice.

We hope this initiative communicates to the Friedman administration the student body’s desire for direct service opportunities and the need for assistance to make it possible. This direct service scholarship sets a precedent. Friedman’s summer internship requirement is one of the few opportunities we have to explore service learning before diving into our careers. We encourage all first-years to consider applying, and invite everyone to donate to make it possible!

Julie Kurtz (MS/MPH) joined FJL in 2016, after her professional experience impressed upon her that community involvement matters as much as one’s job description. She loves the rich history of Friedman students who have contributed to FJL’s unique DNA.

Friedman Policy Corner: A Call to Action for Aspiring Food Activists

by Ayten Salahi (MS/RD-FPAN) and Marielle Hampton (MS-AFE)

On February 5, the Friedman Food Policy Action Council (FFPAC) convened its inaugural meeting. Massachusetts Congressman Jim McGovern stopped by to offer words of wisdom, encouragement, and a call to action.

Congressman Jim McGovern offers words of wisdom at the inaugural meeting of new Tufts advocacy group, Friedman Food Policy Action Council.

Congressman Jim McGovern offers words of wisdom at the inaugural meeting of new Tufts advocacy group, Friedman Food Policy Action Council.

Congressman Jim McGovern surprised Tufts students with an impromptu visit at the first meeting of the newly formed Friedman Food Policy Action Council (FFPAC) on February 5, one week before the Trump administration announced its budget request for fiscal year 2019. Congressman McGovern, champion of anti-hunger causes and ranking member of the House Subcommittee on Nutrition, was visiting the school to discuss his recently launched bipartisan Food is Medicine Working Group in the House Hunger Caucus.

During the meeting, Congressman McGovern expressed his appreciation for the student initiative to get involved in advocacy, since “academia doesn’t always translate into activism.” When FFPAC founding member Ayten Salahi requested words of wisdom for students looking to get involved in political action, McGovern chuckled. “This is the toughest year you could have picked to get started, but that’s why it’s so incredibly important.”

He urged students to remember that people in government are supposed to be working for them. Even in the current political climate, he said, “pressure works.”

So how can students and citizens help? “Every elected official has one thing in common: they want to get re-elected. These issues are important enough that these people need to know if they’re not with you, you’re not with them. There has to be consequences… Nobody would tell you they’re pro-hunger, but judgment should be based on actions.

The Congressman then offered a crucial piece of advice that he adopts in his professional and personal life: Correct misinformation and provide facts.

Even in Congress, falsehoods are repeated regularly. He makes a point to correct the record, whether at a family dinner or among colleagues. “The average SNAP benefit is only about $1.40 per person per meal and the majority of people on SNAP are kids and senior citizens or disabled,” he explained. “The majority of beneficiaries who can work, work. The majority of people on SNAP are white, despite misconceptions. The USDA has been very effective at cracking down on SNAP fraud.”

Congressman McGovern’s guidance to hold our elected officials accountable may prove especially important for food and nutrition advocates this year, with changes to the Farm Bill slotted for congressional review in March.

On Monday, February 12th, the Trump administration announced its budget request for fiscal year 2019, which included a plan to cut 30% – $214 billion – from the SNAP budget over the course of 10 years. The proposed “cost-savings” would result from a major shake-up in the program’s benefit structure. Among the proposed changes, one has received significant publicity: Instead of receiving monthly funds loaded into EBT cards as is currently done, SNAP beneficiaries receiving $90 or more per month would receive half of their benefits in the form of a “USDA Foods Package,” packed with predetermined food items specifically chosen for their long shelf life. The package would include cereals, pastas, canned foods, peanut butter, and shelf-stable milk. Notably, no fresh fruits and vegetables would be included. No one has seen if or how these changes would be reflected in the 2018 Farm Bill.

While the administration calls the proposal a “cost-effective, Blue-Apron-style approach” with “no loss in food benefits to participants,” stakeholders are skeptical that the proposed “Harvest Box” is anything more than a distraction from work underway behind the scenes to slash federal funding for food assistance programs. Stacy Dean, vice president for food assistance policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities says, “I don’t think there’s really any support for their box plan. And, I worry that it’s a distraction from the budget’s proposal to cut SNAP by some 30 percent. That’s the real battle. But all anyone is talking about today are the boxes.” Ranking democrat on the agricultural committee Senator Debbie Stabenow also cautions that this “isn’t a serious proposal and is clearly meant to be a distraction.” Shortly following the release of the budget proposal, administration officials admitted that the food box plan had “virtually no chance of being implemented anytime soon,” rousing further suspicion around the administration’s motives in publicizing it so widely.

During his visit with FFPAC, Congressman McGovern expressed similar concerns, and emphasized how important it is that food policy activists and SNAP beneficiaries alike demand transparency from members of the House Committee on Agriculture on the drafting of the 2018 Farm Bill. Despite his role as Democratic ranking member of the House Subcommittee on Nutrition, Congressman McGovern shared that neither he nor his Republican counterpart has seen a single sentence of the updated Farm Bill, now under review with the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). He cautioned this lack of transparency around the latest draft as “a sign that someone is hiding something.”

Though it remains to be seen, the bill is anticipated to reflect significant reductions in the federal SNAP budget, which will have a direct and jarring impact on the sustenance and economic freedom of nearly 46 million low-income Americans who depend on the program to nourish both themselves and their families.

In his closing remarks, Congressman McGovern issued a call to action for us at Friedman – and for all those invested in the protection of health equity, food security, and social welfare – to call our representatives, and to demand transparency around the content of the latest Farm Bill, and when it will be made available for review. In the coming months, FFPAC pledges to maintain a finger on the pulse of the upcoming Farm Bill and rally advocates to hold representatives accountable for votes that jeopardize SNAP program benefits.

Friedman Food Policy Action Council (FFPAC) is a student-run organization of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University. Our mission is to advance evidence-based nutrition and agricultural policies in support of public and environmental health, by equipping students with the skills and relationships necessary to impact policy through advocacy. For more information, or to join FFPAC, please contact friedmanfpac@gmail.com

Ayten Salahi is a first-year FPAN MS/RD candidate, co-founder of FFPAC, and is dedicated to the future of policy, programming, and clinical practice in sustainable diets and nutrition equity. Ayten came to Friedman after working as a molecular and clinical researcher in neuropharmacology and diabetes management for nearly 8 years.

Marielle Hampton is a first-year MS candidate in the Agriculture, Food, and Environment program and a co-founder of FFPAC. Marielle began her studies at Friedman after spending five years working with small farmers on Hawai‘i Island.