When one of Susan Rubin’s children started coming home from school with candy wrappers in her bag – rewards for success in a spelling bee – the mother of three girls was inspired to intervene.
“At the time I was a dentist – an idealistic one – and I thought candy and junkfood didn’t belong in schools. So I started getting involved, and the more I did the farther I fell down the rabbit hole,” she recalls. “The problem was a lot bigger and deeper than I could have imagined.”
Rubin founded Better School Food, a coalition of health professionals, educators and concerned parents raising awareness about the connection between better food and better health. The organization helps individuals, schools and communities create wellness policies, implement new food standards, and sustain positive changes once they’ve been implemented in schools.
“Unfortunately, what looked like a happy ending in the film turned out not to be so happy at that school,” Rubin says now. “I’m afraid the chicken nuggets are back.”
“The quality of meat and cheese in the national school lunch program is of really low quality. McDonald’s has higher standards than schools do,” she says. “Over the years I’ve really let go of the “n” word – nutrition – and now it’s all about the “f” word – food. We’ve been going down the wrong path, over-focused on calories and fat grams and carbs. One hundred calories of crap is still crap. We need to get back to real food. Our food system is not working.”
Right now, Rubin’s focus is on Better School Food, “and also on Slow Food – I’m working with Slow Food USA. It’s an international movement started by a guy in Italy in the mid-1980s protesting a McDonald’s opening at the foot of the Spanish Steps in Rome. He was speaking out against fast food and fast life. Now there are some 250 chapters across the U.S. We believe in food that’s good, clean and fair – so there’s a social justice piece in there, an environmental piece and a pleasure piece.
“We’ve been working hard lately to support the Child Nutrition Act, and also working at the grassroots level with a dig-in – a project promoting school gardens across the country. In my opinion, school gardens is the way we’re going to get kids to fall in love with real food, especially vegetables. When they grow it, they eat it.”
Rubin is in constant contact with her like-minded community of mothers, educators and health professionals, blogging on the Better School Food website and also on her private practice page.
“My children were kind of my muse, and now that they’re grown it’s still going on. There’s a whole new wave of moms out there who are concerned about this, and now that we have the Internet it’s easier to organize. We have to change form the grassroots up, and it’s going to come from Moms.”