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.

 

Friedman Policy Corner: Advocate for Sound Nutrition and Agricultural Policy This Spring … and Then Run for Office!

by Alana Davidson

This spring is the end of the 2017-2018 legislative session in the Massachusetts State House. Read about what this means in terms of advocacy and learn about Friedman’s new student-run organization, the Friedman Food Policy Action Council. Finally, consider if a life in public service is right for you and whether you should run for office!

 

It’s a new year and this spring marks the end of the 2017-2018 legislative session at the Massachusetts State House. State legislators have until February 7th, 2018 to rule on all bills in committee, unless they request an extension. That means legislators decide if a bill “ought to pass”, “ought not to pass” or “study order.” Bills that ought to pass continue on through the legislative process and are considered favorable. A study order means the bill needs to be reviewed further, but most bills that are marked this and bills ruled “ought not to pass” die in committee. Then, legislators have until July 31st, 2018 to pass any bills and get them signed into law by the Governor. These next six months are a crucial time for agriculture, food, and nutrition advocates to make their voices heard. There are currently 208 bills in the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources, and Agriculture, and over 6,000 bills filed in total. Many of these bills will not proceed forward and several bills have already passed out of committee. To explore the current bills, visit: https://malegislature.gov/Bills/Search.

 

Examples of bills to follow over the next six months:

S.442 An Act Promoting Agriculture in the Commonwealth

This bill establishes two funds: an Agricultural Resolve and Security Fund and a Massachusetts Veterans and Warriors to Agriculture Program Fund. The second fund will be used to provide competitive grants and loans to educate, train, and retain veterans working in the agriculture sector across the state of Massachusetts.

H.4050 An Act to Promote the Care and Wellbeing of Livestock

This bill establishes a 13 member Livestock Care and Standards Board, that would include a member from the Cummings’ School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University. The board would advise the Commissioner of the Department of Agricultural Resources on humane treatment of animal livestock, including cattle, swine, and poultry. Based on the recommendations the Commissioner can issue any new regulations or voluntary guidance pertaining to the treatment of livestock. This may include comfort of animals, animal health, safety, and the financial impact on farms.

H.2131 An Act Relative to an Agricultural Healthy Incentives Program

This bill establishes a Massachusetts Healthy Incentives Fund administered by the Department of Transitional Assistance and the Department of Agricultural Resources. Through this fund, for every $1 of SNAP spent on fruits and vegetables a person will receive a matching dollar benefit redeemed on their SNAP EBT card.

 

With the current political climate, it is now more important than ever to make your voice heard. What are some ways you can do that this spring? Join Friedman’s new student run organization, the Friedman Food Policy Action Council (FFPAC). This organization is seeking to unite Friedman students interested in policy, advocacy, and research to develop skills in lobbying by investigating current legislative issues at the state and federal level, and advocating in support of sound nutrition and agricultural policies. The group will be meeting bimonthly on Mondays at noon and our first official meeting is February 5th, 2018. If you decide to join FFPAC, you will gain experience writing and publishing op-eds, calling and meeting with legislatures, and working with other advocacy organization across Massachusetts and the country. FFPAC will also be hosting bimonthly Policy Chats in partnership with Professor Jerry Mande this spring to discuss current food and nutrition policy issues. The next policy chats will be February 7th and February 21st 2018.

The only way we are going to make evidence-based nutrition and agricultural policies top priorities at the national and state levels is by having conversations with elected officials and by running for office ourselves. If this past year has inspired you or the recent marches have prompted you to think about your future, consider going into public service. If statements from our elected leaders that it’s time to end the SNAP program angers you, go knock on doors and make calls for candidates who will support these programs. If you are tired of hearing about “fake news” and “alternative facts,” speak out in support of science. As students at a policy-focused school, we gain the skills and knowledge to read and analyze policies. We each must ask ourselves, “If I was an elected official, what proposals would I put forward? What change would I want to see?” We are at a pivotal moment in our country’s history. At the federal level, we have welfare reform and the Farm Bill to look forward to within the next year, while at the same time school meal regulations are being rolled back by the USDA and the Secretary of Agriculture says the SNAP program needs more “state flexibility.” We have to decide what kind of world we want to live in: one in which the government helps provide food to those who cannot afford it, or one that leaves it to charity? One in which consolidated large corporations control the entire food system, from what seeds are planted to what products get the best placement on supermarkets shelves? We as agriculture, food, and nutrition policy students have a unique training that can enable us to be effective change makers in food systems and food justice work.

So to my colleagues, consider this your first ask to run for office! No matter if you start small by joining FFPAC or calling an elected official, or go large by volunteering on a campaign or running for office, there are numerous ways you can make a difference this year. So let’s roll up our sleeves, get to work, and make our voices heard.

 

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.

 

 

 

How Nutrition in MassCare May Put The ‘Health’ Back in ‘Universal Health Coverage’

by Ayten Salahi & Hattie Brown

Including local incentives for food equity and nutritional status may boost momentum and potential of the MA Right to Health movement. Members of budding student group – the Friedman Food Policy Action Council (FFPAC) – met with Massachusetts State Senator Jamie Eldridge to discuss the need to include nutrition in a proposed cost analysis of a single payer health system (S.2202).

Pictured left to right: Ayten Salahi (MS/RD Candidate), Kurt Hager (MS/MPH Candidate), Senator Jamie Eldridge, Alana Davidson (MS Candidate). 22 NOV 2017

In thousands of American households, the prohibitive cost of healthcare has forced families into an impossible position: choose between financial ruin or the health decline and possible death of a loved one. In Massachusetts, this bleak reality has motivated both the state legislature and its constituents to revive a movement in favor of a single payer healthcare system. However, the degree to which nutrition interventions and food access will be covered in the proposed model remains largely unknown.

The central tenet of a single payer scheme under universal health coverage (UHC) is that health care is a human right. The proposed legislation in Massachusetts seeks to offer and protect healthcare for all residents through a publicly-financed program that provides comprehensive care and coverage under a single insurance plan. The single payer public option would serve as an alternative to employer-sponsored healthcare, in which premiums are paid through payroll deductions, coupled with co-pays and out-of-pocket deductibles. For middle- and lower-income beneficiaries, a single payer system means lower cost for better access to care.

In Massachusetts, the single-payer campaign has reached unprecedented support with 120 co-signers under a 2017 proposal colloquially called MassCare (H. 2987, S. 619). Though neither of the proposed legislation were passed this year, an amended bill (S. 2202) was passed with overwhelming support by the state Senate on November 10 by a 33-6 vote (all six Republicans in the chamber being against). S.2202 authorizes a cost analysis of a state-wide single payer system, and will be reviewed by the House in early 2018.

While MassCare holds promising potential to reduce healthcare spending for both the state and per capita, the proposed legislation does not explicitly or implicitly include nutrition interventions as a line item for consideration in the single payer costing analysis. Historically, UHC policy-makers have deemed nutrition-related services as non-essential, and therefore not covered by insurance. The World Bank refutes this trend, and reports that to accelerate progress towards affordability and access of care requires a “fundamental rethinking of how to keep people healthy.” The recommendations go on to cite regulatory measures targeted to improve diet-related behavior as seminal to the public health agenda. Just last year, the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFRI) further urged policy-makers to include access to adequate nutrients as an essential service in all UHC programs.

To learn more about how nutrition might fit into the proposed single payer costing analysis, three members of the nascent, student-run Friedman Food Policy Action Council (FFPAC) took to the Massachusetts State House in late November to meet with single payer champion and state Senator Jamie Eldridge. FFPAC emphasized that, as Massachusetts prepares to analyze the cost effectiveness of single payer models as outlined in S.2202, additional resources should be allocated to determine the efficacy of funding nutrition therapy programs within the model. To achieve this, FFPAC proposed that the MA single payer costing analysis include: 1) medical nutrition therapy coverage for patients with, or at risk for, hypertension, obesity and cardiovascular disease (CVD); 2) enteral nutrition coverage as outlined in MassHealth; 3) food insecurity screenings for all patients; and 4) tailored food prescriptions for low-income patients.

State Senator Jamie Eldridge, lead Senate sponsor of An Act Establishing Medicare For All in Massachusetts, said, “I was excited to meet with graduate students from the Friedman School of Nutrition, to discuss how preventative health, including nutrition interventions, would be a key component of single payer healthcare, and would help reduce healthcare costs in Massachusetts.”

As the proposed bill continues to undergo revision and review into 2018, FFPAC will continue to advocate that Massachusetts – home of the healthcare law that led to the Affordable Care Act –should again lead by investing in nutritional therapy programs in a single payer model as a method to improve the health of its citizens, lower healthcare costs, and lower the tax burdens of its residents.

The Friedman Food Policy Action Council (FFPAC) is a developing student-run organization of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University. The group will be formally established in December 2017, with a mission 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. FFPAC will host its general interest meeting in the early 2018. For further information, please contact friedmanfpac@googlegroups.com. Stay tuned for opportunities to join us and amplify the voice of food advocates in 2018!

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

Hattie Brown is an MS candidate in the FPAN program, and a co-founder of FFPAC. Her interests at Friedman are in the economic implications of food systems, with a focus on the intersection of sustainable agriculture and access to nutritious food. Before coming to Friedman, Hattie worked as a researcher in various capacities, including legal, for a public finance firm, and clinical, for a study analyzing phytochemical compounds in cocoa and their impacts on satiety.

 

 

Friedman Policy Corner: Massachusetts’s First Farm to School Awareness Day at the State Capitol

by Alana Davidson

October is National Farm to School Month. To celebrate, Massachusetts Farm to School hosted the first Farm to School Awareness Day at the state Capitol on October 26th. Alana Davidson recounts what happened at the event, and details current legislation that is being considered on Farm to School and ways to get involved and support strong Farm to School programs.  

Dozens of students, advocates, and government officials flocked to the state Capitol on October 26th for the first Farm to School Awareness Day, as part of National Farm to School Month. The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 spurred the creation of Farm to School programs to provide grants and technical assistance to schools so they can provide more locally grown food in school meals. This State House event reflected on the progress Massachusetts has made in expanding Farm to School programs, as well as what more needs to be done.

The speakers at the event ranged from United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) officials to state senators. The USDA’s Farm to School Director, Erin Healy, spoke about the importance of these programs, and how the USDA 2015 Census of Farm to School found that 68% of Massachusetts’ school districts participated in these activities. That is 828 schools and 422,072 students! Rob Leshin, Director of Food and Nutrition Programs at the Massachusetts Department of Education, added that Farm to School programs have led to the investment of over $10 million in local foods. The locally grown food is not just being used in school lunch, but also in school breakfast, summer meals, and afterschool snack programs. Leshin also described how some schools are including local seafood in school meals. During lunchtime students get to eat Tilapia, the “Catch of the Day” that was caught that morning. Students learn about local fishermen and where and how their seafood is caught. The chairs of the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources, and Agriculture, Senator Gobi and Congressman Pignatelli, also spoke. They expressed their support for Farm to School programs and recognized the importance of connecting local farmers with students and school meals. Having the support of the chairs is important because they can influence what bills ought to pass out of committee and what amendments are accepted or rejected. Also, if the House and Senate pass different bills, the chair is in charge of the committee that combines the two bills into one final version.

Photo: Alana Davidson. Rob Leshin Speaking

There is currently one bill in the Massachusetts congress that affects Farm to School programs (An Act Relative to Healthy Eating in School Cafeterias, H.3549). The bill includes a three-year grant program to fund kitchen upgrades for one school each year, with the goal of improving fresh food accommodation and storage. Additionally, a four-year pilot grant program will provide funds to multiple schools to increase their supplies of locally grown foods in school meals, and improve student education and engagement around healthy eating. Finally, the bill establishes a School Interagency Task Force that will aim to increase the sustainability of Farm to School programs in Massachusetts, and provide guidance for the four-year grant. This bill has been introduced in the Joint Committee on Education and has had one hearing thus far on July 18th. Next, the bill is “reported out of committee”, which means committee members must decide if the bill ought to pass or not. They have until the third Wednesday of March 2018 to do this. If they decide it ought to pass the bill can then be debated and amendments added before the full House and Senate vote it on.

Farm to School programs help increase students’ access to healthy, nutritious food in schools. They also stimulate local economies by directing money to local farms and fisheries. These programs can be expanded by providing more funding to schools to increase educational activities, improve kitchen equipment, and strengthen local food systems through greater procurement policies with local farms.

If you are a supporter of these programs, contact your state members of Congress and tell them to support H.3549 and strong Farm to School programs! To find your legislator, visit: https://malegislature.gov/Search/FindMyLegislator. Also, tell your legislators to maintain the current funding for Farm to School programs ($120,000) in the fiscal year 2019 Massachusetts’s Budget!

If you do not live in Massachusetts, or are interested in federal policy (as opposed to state policy) – the Farm to School Act of 2017 is currently in committee in the House and Senate. This bill increases mandatory funding for the program from $5 million to $15 million due to increased demand. Tell your federal members of Congress to support this bill and strong Farm to School programs! To find your members, call the U.S. Capitol switchboard at 202-224-3121.

 

Alana Davidson is a first year MS candidate in the Food Policy and Applied Nutrition program. 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 issues.

 

Do We Need More Business, or Better Business, to Feed a Growing Population?

by Rebecca Lucas and Emmy Moore

To create a world that can feed 9 billion people by 2030 while providing clean water access, ensuring equal access to education across gender, and supporting renewable and safe energy, do we need to establish new and profitable business models? Or do we simply need to adjust business as usual?

A giant social experiment took place in August. One thousand people from 129 countries. Ten days. Nine Danish folk high schools. All to formulate solutions to address the United Nation’s seventeen Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), that had been condensed to seven major themes: food, energy, water, sustainable production and consumption, education and information and communications technology (ICT), urban sustainability, and health.  After a week, 199 pitches of innovative solutions had been created by groups of people who had only just met at the start of the experiment.

UNLEASH is a global innovation lab, created with the intention of bringing together “talents,” aged 20-35, from all over the world to innovate on the UN’s SDGs and develop new businesses, new ideas, and new ways to achieve these objectives. The long term goal is to continue this program every year until 2030, banking on the probability that at least a few new and creative solutions will successfully emerge. Six individuals from the Friedman School were selected to be part of this inaugural year; while at times it was clear we were guinea pigs with similar frustrations, we were also immersed in an entirely unique and novel experience.

The setting is Denmark: known for clean design, universal health care, paid parental leave, and above all, a high per capita income. This makes for an interesting contrast when working on problems that are facing the world as a whole, yet many that disproportionately impact developing countries.

The first few days all 1,000 of us gathered in dichotomous venues; post-industrial sites, like locomotive storage, and prospects of the future, like Copenhagen City Hall. We were showered with inspirational words from a variety of sectors within Denmark, meant to invigorate us with direction of technology and what is possible today that was not ten years ago. But many of us were left wondering what these futuristic notions had to do with the issues we were at UNLEASH to tackle today.

After two days of corralling 1,000 millennials around Copenhagen, we were divided into our SDG themes and shipped to folk high schools. The Danish Folk High School feels like an adult summer camp but is so much more: individuals who want to learn anything left out of standard school settings, including banjo playing or poetry, can attend throughout their life for different lengths of time. Ry Folkskole, where half of the food-theme group resided, was on a lake and focused on music, theatre, and canoeing. It had a principal who told us the mission was to remind its students that there is more to life than business—there is life. An interesting juxtaposition when we were there with the objective of intensively creating business proposals.

After a morning assembly of singing and three rounds of problem framing on the first day at the high schools, we were divided into our teams that would ultimately produce the final pitch, loosely based on 20 “insights” that had been distilled from each participant’s application.

This was where the social experiment almost felt absurd at times: thrown together with people we had just met, we were meant to come up with a business plan on a clearly defined, singular problem with an explainable and innovative solution in less than four days. This process of problem framing with elegant solutions did not fit neatly with the SDGs and broader issues many of us initially gathered at UNLEASH to grapple with.

Sustainable Development Goal number two: end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture. It is a grand goal and for many reasons it can seem unachievable. Yet here we were, meant to come up with some thing, some product, some idea that was pitch-able to investors. So, the question kept surfacing: is what we need to achieve zero hunger something that is pitch-able? Is what we need to feed nine billion people by 2030 something that can make a profit? Is focusing on the creation of new apps what will address inequity of food access currently? Is the future of sustainability as discussed in this context applicable to the rest of the world?

Perhaps what is needed to address global hunger and improve food security is a paradigm shift, a major change in the way we view development and how development actually lands on the ground, plants its roots, and continues to grow. This isn’t innovative and yet it may just be something that could work if pursued on this type of platform, with these 1,000 people involved who are excited and ready.

The only problem is; this isn’t necessarily a business proposition. We couldn’t exactly prototype a development model with Legos and pitch it to investors and experts present on our panel of judges. Is UNLEASH’s answer to the SDGs the creation of more start-ups? Or is the answer just doing what we do now, but doing it better? Can it be both? Maybe we can innovate by renovating our existing business models to incorporate the objectives and indicators of the SDGs while also creating new business.

The goal of UNLEASH was not to achieve a paradigm shift in ten days. It aimed to build connections and support future projects and collaboration. The event introduced people from 129 countries to each other and reminded us that we have a shared desire. To gather 1,000 people together who want to make this world a little bit better has much larger implications and reverberations than any business pitch could generate. The paradigm shift is coming.

You can read more about some of the solutions that won prizes here.

Emmy Moore is a second year MS candidate in the Agriculture, Food, & Environment program. Her academic interests include agriculture policy, water resource management, and systems modeling. She likes playing with her cat Pin and road trips. Before joining Friedman she ran a business in California making pickles and jams.

Rebecca Lucas is a second year Agriculture Food & Environment/Urban & Environmental Policy & Planning dual degree student and changes her mind monthly as to her primary focus while in graduate school. Right now it’s all about community engagement and farm to institution work. Hailing originally from the central coast of California, she is still trying to understand how life still functions when it snows and the difference between a “winter” coat and just a coat.

Candy-Ween

by Hannah Meier

Dressing up, carving pumpkins, ringing doorbells, staying up late, gorging on candy. Halloween traditions are well-beloved in the United States, and reminisced upon fondly by even the most educated nutrition students in the Boston area. But with sugar in the spotlight of contemporary public health interventions, is it time to reconsider our chocolate-coated hallows ‘eve habit?

Hannah and her younger brother Adam in matching, handmade leopard costumes

I liked to sort my candy by type, color, and preference. Each Halloween, I would make my rounds to every house with lights on in my suburban Minnesota neighborhood. I’d ring countless doorbells and gleefully chant, “trick or treat!” alongside my costumed friends, while grown-ups scooped candy by the handful into our open pillowcases. I would relish the end of the night, coming home and dumping the pounds of fresh candy onto a wide space of open floor, sorting the Milk Duds (a personal favorite) into their own pile and relegating Now & Laters, Licorice and Butterfingers into the pile of not-so-greats that I’d probably try to trade for more Milk Duds from my brother later.

The dumping and sorting of Halloween candy was a well-loved tradition

For me, candy was a given on Halloween. Sure, there were houses that we’d visit that would hand out fruit snacks or granola bars, and I usually ended up with at least one toothbrush. But these “treats” held hardly as much excitement. My parents allowed my brother and I to keep all our candy, but we were normally held to 2-3 pieces as treats per day, max.

Fast forward 20 or so years, and I not only survived 10 years of tick-or-treating in good health, I’m now in a position of relative influence in the world of nutrition. I’ve learned enough about food to know that candy provides little more to our bodies’ cells than some quick energy and easy calories. Some would argue there are properties within candy, like added sugar, that are harmful to our bodies. I would argue that most people have nothing to worry about if candy is left as a once-in-a-while food (even a once-a-day treat). Looking at the bigger picture of overall diet is more telling. Even though most candy contains negligible amounts of micronutrients, will our bodies really know whether we ate two Snickers® fun size® bars or a Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Larabar®, give or take a few grams of fiber? I do not have an answer to that question, but I can tell you, without a doubt, that my mother would not have payed twice the price for pulverized cashews and dates.

used for comparison based on weight and likelihood of use as a Halloween candy

Now, I’m not anti-Larabar®, and recognize that if we were to compare ingredient lists, one would be a clear winner. Of course, I’m not comparing a Snickers® bar to an apple, a bag of trail mix, or popcorn—all options that would clearly be less-processed, more wholesome snacks. I’m comparing a Snickers® bar to a reasonable cousin—one that also provides the satisfaction of unwrapping a crinkly wrapper—yet happens to be expensive and out of reach for most. It’s worth taking a step back and considering whether the battle to promote “healthier” Halloween treats really holds up – we shouldn’t be relying on candy or snack bars like Larabar® for micronutrients, anyway.

Still, it’s hard to find the Halloween candy tradition benign when considering our current food environment, which makes eating large portions of highly processed foods in a fairly mindless way all too convenient and affordable every day. Holiday traditions put a spotlight on food industry favorites, and Halloween is the king of them all. Unlike food traditions surrounding holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah and Rosh Hashanah, Halloween is all about the candy.

Trick-or-treating and candy-giving on Halloween rolled out in the United States as a fully-fledged tradition in the 1950s, alongside Wonderbread® and CocaCola®. Packaged candy was cemented as a Halloween staple during the 70’s when folks feared razor blades in apples, Samira Kawash suggests in a 2010 article in The Atlantic. Since then, Americans have taken hold of the sugar habit, purchasing upwards of 600 million pounds of candy a year for Halloween, and 90 million pounds of chocolate during the week of Halloween alone according to a Neilsen report from 2009. That’s about one pound and 3.2 ounces of chocolate per child in the United States purchased in one week.

Talk about added sugar.

The most recent Dietary Guidelines for Americans, along with proposed updates to the FDA Nutrition Facts Panel, pinpoint 50 grams of added sugar as the suggested daily intake for an average adult based on a 2000 Calorie diet pattern. One pound and 3.2 ounces of milk chocolate contains about 543 grams of sugar, which averages out to over 75 grams of sugar per day if consumed in one week. And that’s just chocolate—add in sugar from other foods like yogurt, baked goods, sauces and dressings, and the scales are tipped firmly in the direction of “excess.”

So, what are we supposed to do about it?

According to an informal survey of Friedman students, a majority (64%) believe that handing out Halloween candy neither helps nor hurts public health nutrition policy, and only 55% do not believe it is our responsibility as nutrition professionals to shift our current candy-centric Halloween culture.

“Holidays are unique and have anticipated traditions that vary by family and culture,” one Friedman student responded. America just happens to have a love affair with sugar on Halloween.

But of course, Halloween candy is not the only thing contributing to chronic disease. Another student argued, “Blaming candy is like saying if we want to prevent house fires we should outlaw matches.”

Moderation was a signature theme of survey responses. “Every holiday doesn’t require candy and sweets, but it provides a good opportunity to discuss with children the importance of moderation and sharing,” one student suggested.

While I agree that moderation is a key message, and that foods like candy (or ice cream, or brownies) can indeed be incorporated into an overall health-promoting diet when approached without guilt or stress, does fixating on treats at holidays like Halloween (and Christmas, and Easter, and Valentine’s Day) really send that message? Would we be so obsessed with candy on Halloween if we weren’t constantly trying to avoid it the rest of the year?

To help make your decision—will you or won’t you participate in passing out candy to kids this Halloween?—let’s refer to my favorite decision-making tool: the Pros vs. Cons list.

 

PROS

CONS
Candy is cheap, usually on sale, and comes in many varieties Look at the ingredients list… if you dare
But chocolate has antioxidants, right? Have you ever babysat a kid who ate candy for dinner?
Dentists need more business, it’s good for the economy. Candy may be cheap, but fillings are expensive.
More likely to be viewed as a “cool house” for handing out candy. If no one comes to your door, you can wear pajamas and go to bed early.
Leftover candy

Leftover candy

 

While over 95% of Friedman students surveyed enjoy eating candy on Halloween, only 53% of them plan to hand out sweet treats to costumed kiddos this year. Most who aren’t participating in the tradition reported not having Trick-or-Treaters stepping up to their doors. Others said they would be handing out granola bars, nuts (allergies are a whole other topic worth considering on Halloween), or non-food items like stickers.

Most folks passing out candy are going with fun size bars or “whatever’s cheapest.” My building is one that will likely not be visited by young tricksters looking for treats, but if it were, I’d pick up a big bag of fun size pretzel M&Ms® (because they offer the best of both worlds) and ask every kid their name. Like one insightful second-year student added “Halloween is a great opportunity to get to know neighbors and give personal attention to your community.”

Thanks to all the Friedman students and alumni who filled out the unofficial survey and offered thoughtful and creative responses! It’s clear we can improve our Halloween traditions, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we need to do away with candy altogether.

*Statistics based on a voluntary Facebook-linked google survey of 45 Friedman students and alumni in September, 2107

Hannah Meier is a registered dietitian, second-year Nutrition Communications student, foodie, and festivity nerd. She believes in the power of food as both an instrument for health and community, and strives to make nourishing options as accessible and convenient as possible for all. You can find her on Instagram @abalancedpaceRD and Twitter @hannahrosemeier.

My(Policy)Plate: What Presidential Candidates Bring to the Table on Ag and Nutrition Issues

by Katie Moses

Election Day is just a few days away. What do our presidential candidates have to say about food and agriculture? Katie Moses takes a look at the issues.

Food: 0

Nutrition: 0

Agriculture: 1

This is the number of times the major party candidates stated these words in the three 2016 presidential debates. Even though the cultural conversation around food and agriculture seems to grow louder every day, the only reference in the debates was by Hillary Clinton when discussing the Clinton Foundation’s work in Haiti. Why? Not one of the 70 unique questions asked in the three 2016 presidential debates were about nutrition or agricultural policy.

This doesn’t mean the presidential candidates and their parties have been completely silent on nutrition and agriculture issues. Other sources such as campaign websites, representatives and whom they seek council from can fill in some of the blanks regarding where the Democratic and Republican presidential candidates stand on issues that relate to the future of food and nutrition. Continue reading to learn where they land on the issues you care about.

Farm Bill and Snap Benefits

Programs in the farm bill protect farmers, ranchers, and consumers by helping American farms keep growing, ensuring a robust and affordable food supply, and providing food assistance for insecure populations. Where do candidates stand on protecting these programs?

hillary

 

Clinton: The 2016 DNC platform states that “proven programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)—our nation’s most important anti-hunger program—help struggling families put food on the table.” At the October 19th Farm Foundation Forum, Kathleen Merrigan, acting as a surrogate for the Clinton campaign, confirmed that Clinton aligned with the DNC on the importance of agriculture and nutrition programs remaining under the umbrella of the farm bill. Additionally, Clinton’s “Plan for a Vibrant Rural America” advocates for expanding “SNAP recipients’ access to fresh food” as a part of building strong local and regional food systems.

trump

 

Trump: In Donald J. Trump’s vision for the US economy, the increase in SNAP participation during the Obama administration is listed as a key issue, but his vision for the economy does not making recommendations to change the SNAP program. At the October 19th Farm Foundation Forum, Sam Clovis, Trump’s lead adviser on agriculture policy, provided clarity on Trumps stance on SNAP benefits advocating that the way to reduce nutrition spending is to promote economic growth that will put more people to work, rather than cutting the budgets of these programs. Clovis stated that Trump would not advocate for the removal of nutrition programs from the Farm Bill. Trump campaign representative’s statement clashes with the Republican Party Platform 2016 that recommended separating SNAP from the Department of Agriculture and the Farm Bill.

Local and Regional Food Systems

Will local and regional food systems thrive or waiver in these candidates administration?

hillary

 

Clinton: As a New York Senator, Clinton partnered with Foodlink and others for a Farm to Fork initiative that helps distribute locally grown produce in rural counties to the state’s regional centers. “Hillary Clinton’s Plan for a Vibrant Rural America” fact sheet breaks down four key focus areas for strengthening rural America. Under “raising agricultural production and profitability for family farms,” Hillary lays out a plan for building a strong local and regional food system as a continuation of her Farm to Fork initiative as a Senator. She proposes “doubling funding for the Farmers Market Promotion Program and the Local Food Promotion Program to expand food hubs, farmers markets, SNAP recipients’ access to fresh food, and to encourage direct sales to local schools, hospitals, retailers and wholesalers.”

trump

 

Trump: On the campaign trail in Iowa, the Associated Press reports that  Donald Trump called family farms the “backbone” of America and promised to cut taxes on these smaller farms. His platform does not address regional and local food systems directly. While Trump shines a spotlight on small farms on the campaign trail, his recently announced agricultural advisory committee is composed of big players and advocates for the industrial agriculture. Whether local and regional food systems will thrive in a Trump administration is not foreseen, but his advisory committee illustrates that big ag will always have a seat at his table.

Agricultural Animal Rights

After selecting their choice for the next president, Massachusetts voters will be asked where they stand on the new proposed standards for farm animal confinement. Supporters of question three on the Massachusetts ballot argue that the proposed guidelines for raising animals should be the minimal ethical standard in food production and will help promote similar legislation in other states. Opponents argue that question three would raise the cost of eggs and pork, negatively affecting taxpayer-funded assistance programs and low-income individuals and families. While neither candidate is a registered Massachusetts voter, this is what they’ve said about the underlying issue.

hillary

 

Clinton has an entire section of her platform devoted to protecting animals and wildlife: “As president, Hillary will… protect farm animals from inhumane treatment by encouraging farms to raise animals humanely.” While she hasn’t made a statement on the risk of increased food prices, the former Secretary of State takes a clear aspirational stand on improving conditions for farm animals.

trump

 

Trump: The republican presidential candidate does not address farm animals in his political platform. With the announcement of his agricultural advisory committee and candidates for Secretary of the Interior, many have analyzed what his approach to farm policy would be and have concluded that legislation like the proposed measure in Massachusetts to improve farm animal welfare would not be approved on his desk.

For more on the candidates’ stances on the concerns of farmers and ranchers, see this post from the American Farm Bureau Federation.

Katie Moses is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist born and bred in the heart of Cajun country. With Sicilian, Syrian, and Cajun-French grandparents, she’s had a unique culinary upbringing, and finds ways to adapt traditional dishes to fit current nutrition recommendations. Outside of the teaching kitchen, Katie is a first year Nutrition Intervention, Communication, and Behavior Change student and a passionate advocate for expanding access to dietitians’ nutrition counseling services.