Inspiration from India

Your publication is funny, sad, compelling, never boring, and I look forward to every new issue (Crash Barry is a favorite — love his stories). This letter is regarding the article you ran about the school lunch programs currently offered in our Maine public school systems [“Hold the Slime,” April 2012]. This isn’t a regional issue, it’s a national problem, and I think it’s a serious one.

I’m a grandmother of 10 and all but two of the youngest attend public schools here in Maine and in New Hampshire. My grandkids eat lunches provided in their respective schools and the food they eat on a regular basis is unhealthy. Most of us realize that this has to change and soon. Obesity and diabetes are on the rise at an alarming rate. Other health problems related to continuous poor diet are surfacing in young people, as well. Don’t misunderstand me here. The men and women who work in our cafeterias work hard, but the food provided to them to prepare lunch meals is not healthy.

I want to mention a news broadcast that was aired April 6, on NPR’s food program called The Salt. It featured a report on India’s school lunch program. In India, the biggest obstacle teachers face in keeping kids in school is hunger. Kids are starving and they are too sick or weak to make it to school or even sit in a classroom for a day.

NPR reported that over a decade ago, the Hindu group called ISKON (better known as the Hare Krishna in the West) initiated a school lunch program to help change this terrible situation. The idea was to provide healthy, nutritious food to school children all over India. Today this program is now run by a public/private partnership. They feed lunches to about 1.3 million school kids every day!

“Feeding a child is not charity,” Shridhar Venkat, the director of the program,  told NPR. He considers it an investment in their future and the future of his country. By the year 2020, the program’s leaders expect to feed five million Indian children. Their commitment to fulfilling their ideals is impressive — they haven’t missed one school meal in 11 years. The meals are made at large centralized kitchens with fresh food, and are served within four hours of preparation. Their program is so cost effective that it’s become a Harvard Business School case study.

My grandkids are fortunate — they do eat nutritious, healthy meals at home regularly — but many other kids aren’t so lucky. My hope is that the types of food served to all school children will start coming from local/regional food producers and harvesters and will be made fresh every day.

We count on our schools to teach our children so much about life, history, science, art, music, sports and health. We dropped the ball on this one and it’s hurting our children. Learning about food and diet shouldn’t stop at the cafeteria door. I sincerely hope that the movement for change will continue to grow stronger. We have the resources in Maine to provide fresh, nutritious food to our kids and they are depending on us to ensure that our school lunch programs don’t make them sick. For many kids, it could be the best meal of their day.

— Karen Pettengill, Pownal


Not-so-funny bathroom humor

In response to your feature “15 Ideas for a Greater Greater Portland” [March 2012], we find it satirical, however one section fed into prejudice and stigmatization. In particular, Idea #9 (Occupy Starbucks), which links Occupy Maine with the homeless population, needs to be looked at.

Although there were some homeless people staying at the Occupy camp, these people were already suffering from homelessness and did not choose their situation to make a political statement.

One of the real problems homeless people deal with daily is to simply use a bathroom; something most people just take for granted can be quite a chore for people living in homelessness. Homeless people are criticized and made to feel unwelcome when asking for this basic need.

Your comments about using paper towels, soap and water at Starbucks instead of showering only reinforces the prejudice used against the homeless, who just need to fulfill a basic human need. This is a serious situation, not a joke. To portray it as such shows a complete misunderstanding. Homeless Voices for Justice works to fight this prejudice and stigmatization. Our hope is that you will too.

— Jim Devine

Advocate, Homeless Voices for Justice; Portland


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