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Annotated captions of Ann Cooper talks school lunches in English

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My thing with school lunch is, it's a social justice issue.

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I'm the Director of Nutrition Services

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for the Berkeley Unified School District. I have 90 employees

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and 17 locations, 9,600 kids.

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I'm doing 7,100 meals a day

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and I've been doing it for two years,

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trying to change how we feed kids in America.

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And that's what I want to talk to you a little bit about today.

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These are some of my kids with a salad bar.

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I put salad bars in all of our schools when I got there.

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Everyone says it couldn't be done.

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Little kids couldn't eat off the salad bar,

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big kids would spit in it -- neither happened.

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When I took over this, I tried to really figure out,

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like, what my vision would be.

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How do we really change children's relationship to food?

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And I'll tell you why we need to change it,

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but we absolutely have to change it.

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And what I came to understand is,

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we needed to teach children

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the symbiotic relationship

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between a healthy planet, healthy food and healthy kids.

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And that if we don't do that, the antithesis,

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although we've heard otherwise,

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is we're really going to become extinct,

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because we're feeding our children to death.

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That's my premise.

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We're seeing sick kids get sicker and sicker.

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And the reason this is happening, by and large,

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is because of our food system

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and the way the government commodifies food,

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the way the government oversees our food,

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the way the USDA puts food on kids' plates

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that's unhealthy, and allows unhealthy food into schools.

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And by -- tacitly, all of us send our kids,

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or grandchildren, or nieces, or nephews, to school

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and tell them to learn, you know,

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learn what's in those schools.

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And when you feed these kids bad food,

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that's what they're learning. So that's really what this is all about.

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The way we got here is because of big agribusiness.

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We now live in a country where most of us don't decide,

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by and large, what we eat. We see big businesses, Monsanto and DuPont,

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who brought out Agent Orange and stain-resistant carpet.

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They control 90 percent of the commercially produced seeds in our country.

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These are -- 10 companies

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control much of what's in our grocery stores,

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much of what people eat. And that's really, really a problem.

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So when I started thinking about these issues

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and how I was going to change what kids ate,

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I really started focusing on what we would teach them.

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And the very first thing

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was about regional food -- trying to eat food

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from within our region.

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And clearly, with what's going on with fossil fuel usage,

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or when -- as the fossil fuel is going away,

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as oil hits its peak oil,

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you know, we really have to start thinking about whether or not

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we should, or could, be moving food

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1,500 miles before we eat it.

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So we talked to kids about that,

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and we really start to feed kids regional food.

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And then we talk about organic food.

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Now, most school districts can't really afford organic food,

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but we, as a nation,

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have to start thinking about

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consuming, growing and feeding our children

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food that's not chock-full of chemicals.

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We can't keep feeding our kids pesticides

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and herbicides and antibiotics and hormones.

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We can't keep doing that.

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You know, it doesn't work.

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And the results of that are kids getting sick.

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One of my big soapboxes right now is antibiotics.

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Seventy percent of all antibiotics consumed in America

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is consumed in animal husbandry.

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We are feeding our kids antibiotics

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in beef and other animal protein every day.

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Seventy percent -- it's unbelievable.

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And the result of it is, we have diseases.

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We have things like E. coli that we can't fix,

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that we can't make kids better when they get sick.

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And, you know, certainly antibiotics have been over-prescribed,

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but it's an issue in the food supply.

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One of my favorite facts is that

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U.S. agriculture uses 1.2 billion pounds of pesticides every year.

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That means every one of us, and our children,

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consumes what would equal a five-pound bag --

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those bags you have at home. If I had one here

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and ripped it open,

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and that pile I would have on the floor

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is what we consume and feed our children every year

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because of what goes into our food supply,

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because of the way we consume

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produce in America.

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The USDA allows these antibiotics,

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these hormones and these pesticides in our food supply,

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and the USDA paid for this ad

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in Time magazine.

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Okay, we could talk about Rachel Carson and DDT,

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but we know it wasn't good for you and me.

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And that is what the USDA allows in our food supply.

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And that has to change, you know.

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The USDA cannot be seen as

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the be-all and end-all of what we feed

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our kids and what's allowed.

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We cannot believe that they have our best interests at heart.

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The antithesis of this whole thing is sustainable food.

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That's what I really try and get people to understand.

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I really try and teach it to kids. I think it's the most important.

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It's consuming food in a way

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in which we'll still have a planet,

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in which kids will grow up to be healthy,

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and which really tries to mitigate

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all the negative impacts we're seeing.

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It really is just a new idea.

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I mean, people toss around sustainability,

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but we have to figure out what sustainability is.

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In less than 200 years, you know, just in a few generations,

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we've gone from being 200 --

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being 100 percent, 95 percent farmers

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to less than 2 percent of farmers.

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We now live in a country that has more prisoners than farmers --

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2.1 million prisoners, 1.9 million farmers.

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And we spend 35,000 dollars

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on average a year keeping a prisoner in prison,

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and school districts spend 500 dollars a year

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feeding a child.

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It's no wonder, you know, we have criminals.

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(Laughter)

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And what's happening is, we're getting sick.

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We're getting sick and our kids are getting sick.

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It is about what we feed them.

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What goes in is what we are.

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We really are what we eat.

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And if we continue down this path,

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if we continue to feed kids bad food,

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if we continue not to teach them what good food is,

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what's going to happen? You know, what is going to happen?

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What's going to happen to our whole medical system?

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What's going to happen is,

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we're going to have kids

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that have a life less long than our own.

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The CDC, the Center for Disease Control,

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has said, of the children born in the year 2000 --

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those seven- and eight-year-olds today --

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one out of every three Caucasians,

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one out of every two African-Americans and Hispanics

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are going to have diabetes in their lifetime.

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And if that's not enough, they've gone on to say,

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most before they graduate high school.

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This means that 40 or 45 percent

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of all school-aged children

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could be insulin-dependent

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within a decade. Within a decade.

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What's going to happen?

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Well, the CDC has gone further to say

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that those children born in the year 2000

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could be the first generation

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in our country's history to die at a younger age than their parents.

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And it's because of what we feed them.

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Because eight-year-olds don't get to decide --

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and if they do, you should be in therapy.

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You know, we are responsible

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for what kids eat.

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But oops, maybe they're responsible for what kids eat.

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Big companies spend 20 billion dollars a year

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marketing non-nutrient foods to kids.

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20 billion dollars a year. 10,000 ads most kids see.

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They spend 500 dollars

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for every one dollar -- 500 dollars marketing foods

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that kids shouldn't eat for every one dollar

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marketing healthy, nutritious food.

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The result of which is kids think they're going to die

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if they don't have chicken nuggets.

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You know that everybody thinks they should be eating more, and more, and more.

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This is the USDA portion size, that little, tiny thing.

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And the one over there, that's bigger than my head,

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is what McDonald's and Burger King

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and those big companies think we should eat.

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And why can they serve that much?

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Why can we have 29-cent Big Gulps

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and 99-cent double burgers?

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It's because of the way the government commodifies food,

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and the cheap corn and cheap soy

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that are pushed into our food supply

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that makes these non-nutrient foods

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really, really cheap.

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Which is why I say it's a social justice issue.

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Now, I said I'm doing this in Berkeley, and you might think,

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"Oh, Berkeley. Of course you can do it in Berkeley."

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Well, this is the food I found 24 months ago.

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This is not even food.

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This is the stuff we were feeding our kids: Extremo Burritos,

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corn dogs,

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pizza pockets, grilled cheese sandwiches.

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Everything came in plastic, in cardboard.

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The only kitchen tools my staff had was a box cutter.

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The only working piece of equipment in my kitchen

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was a can crusher, because if it didn't come in a can,

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it came frozen in a box.

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The USDA allows this.

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The USDA allows all of this stuff.

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In case you can't tell, that's, like,

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pink Danish and some kind of cupcakes.

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Chicken nuggets, Tater Tots, chocolate milk with high fructose,

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canned fruit cocktail -- a reimbursable meal.

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That's what the government says is okay to feed our kids.

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It ain't okay. You know what? It is not okay.

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And we, all of us,

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have to understand

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that this is about us,

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that we can make a difference here.

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Now I don't know if any of you out there invented chicken nuggets,

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but I'm sure you're rich if you did.

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But whoever decided that a chicken should look like

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a heart, a giraffe, a star?

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Well, Tyson did, because there's no chicken in the chicken.

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And that they could figure it out,

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that we could sell this stuff to kids.

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You know, what's wrong with teaching kids

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that chicken looks like chicken?

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But this is what most schools serve.

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In fact, this may be what a lot of parents serve,

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as opposed to -- this is what we try and serve.

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We really need to change

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this whole paradigm with kids and food.

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We really have to teach children

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that chicken is not a giraffe.

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You know, that vegetables

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are actually colorful, that they have flavor,

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that carrots grow in the ground,

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that strawberries grow in the ground.

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There's not a strawberry tree or a carrot bush.

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You know, we have to change

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the way we teach kids about these things.

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There's a lot of stuff we can do. There's a lot of schools

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doing farm-to-school programs. There's a lot of schools

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actually getting fresh food into schools.

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Now, in Berkeley, we've gone totally fresh.

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We have no high-fructose corn syrup,

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no trans fats, no processed foods.

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We're cooking from scratch every day.

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We have 25 percent of our --

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(Applause)

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thank you -- 25 percent of our stuff

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is organic and local. We cook.

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Those are my hands. I get up at 4 a.m.

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every day and go cook the food for the kids,

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because this is what we need to do.

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We can't keep serving kids

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processed crap,

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full of chemicals,

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and expect these are going to be healthy citizens.

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You're not going to get the next generation,

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or the generation after, to be able to think like this

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if they're not nourished.

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If they're eating

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chemicals all the time,

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they're not going to be able to think.

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They're not going to be smart.

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You know what? They're just going to be sick.

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Now one of the things that -- what happened when I went into Berkeley

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is I realized that, you know, this was all pretty amazing to people,

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very, very different, and I needed to market it.

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I came up with these calendars that I sent home to every parent.

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And these calendars really started to lay out my program.

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Now I'm in charge of all the cooking classes

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and all the gardening classes in our school district.

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So this is a typical menu.

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This is what we're serving this week at the schools.

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And you see these recipes on the side?

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Those are the recipes that the kids learn in my cooking classes.

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They do tastings of these ingredients in the gardening classes.

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They also may be growing them. And we serve them in the cafeterias.

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If we're going to change children's relationship to food,

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it's delicious, nutritious food in the cafeterias,

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hands-on experience -- you're looking in cooking and gardening classes --

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and academic curriculum to tie it all together.

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Now you've probably garnered that I don't love the USDA,

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and I don't have any idea what to do with their pyramid,

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this upside-down pyramid with a rainbow over the top, I don't know.

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You know, run up into the end of the rainbow,

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I don't know what you do with it. So, I came up with my own.

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This is available on my website in English and Spanish,

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and it's a visual way to talk to kids about food.

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The really tiny hamburger, the really big vegetables.

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We have to start changing this.

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We have to make kids understand

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that their food choices make a big difference.

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We have cooking classes -- we have cooking classrooms in our schools.

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And why this is so important is

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that we now have grown a generation,

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maybe two, of kids where one out of every four meals

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is eaten in fast food, one of every four meals is eaten in a car

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and one out of every last four meals is eaten in front of a TV or computer.

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What are kids learning? Where is the family time?

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Where is socialization? Where is discussion?

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Where is learning to talk?

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You know, we have to change it.

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I work with kids a lot. These are kids I work with in Harlem.

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EATWISE -- Enlightened and Aware Teens Who Inspire Smart Eating.

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We have to teach kids

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that Coke and Pop Tarts

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aren't breakfast.

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We have to teach kids that if they're on a diet

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of refined sugar,

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they go up and down, just like if they're on a diet of crack.

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And we have to pull it all together. We have composting in all of our schools.

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We have recycling in all of our schools.

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You know, the things that we maybe do at home

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and think are so important,

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we have to teach kids about in school.

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It has to be so much a part of them

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that they really get it.

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Because, you know what, many of us

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are sort of at the end of our careers,

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and we need to be giving these kids --

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these young kids, the next generation --

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the tools to save themselves

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and save the planet.

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One of the things I do a lot is public-private partnerships.

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I work with private companies

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who are willing to do R & D with me,

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who are willing to do distribution for me,

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who are really willing to work to go into schools.

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Schools are underfunded.

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13:51

Most schools in America spend less

tedtalks 13:51
13:54

than 7,500 dollars a year teaching a child.

tedtalks 13:54
13:57

That comes down to under five dollars an hour.

tedtalks 13:57
13:59

Most of you spend 10, 15 dollars an hour

tedtalks 13:59
14:02

for babysitters when you have them.

tedtalks 14:02
14:05

So we're spending less than 5 dollars an hour on the educational system.

tedtalks 14:05
14:07

And if we're going to change it,

tedtalks 14:07
14:09

and change how we feed kids,

tedtalks 14:09
14:11

we really have to rethink that.

tedtalks 14:11
14:13

So, public and private partnerships,

tedtalks 14:13
14:16

advocacy groups, working with foundations.

tedtalks 14:16
14:18

In our school district, the way we afford this

tedtalks 14:18
14:21

is our school district allocates .03 percent

tedtalks 14:21
14:23

of the general fund

tedtalks 14:23
14:26

towards nutrition services. And I think if every school district

tedtalks 14:26
14:28

allocated a half to one percent,

tedtalks 14:28
14:31

we could start to really fix this program.

tedtalks 14:31
14:34

We really need to change it.

tedtalks 14:34
14:36

It's going to take more money.

tedtalks 14:36
14:38

Of course, it's not all about food; it's also about

tedtalks 14:38
14:40

kids getting exercise.

tedtalks 14:40
14:42

And one of the simple things we can do

tedtalks 14:42
14:44

is put recess before lunch.

tedtalks 14:44
14:46

It's sort of this "duh" thing.

tedtalks 14:46
14:48

You know, if you have kids coming into lunch

tedtalks 14:48
14:51

and all they're going to do when they get out of lunch is go to have recess,

tedtalks 14:51
14:54

you see them just throw away their lunch so they can run outside.

tedtalks 14:54
14:57

And then, at one in the afternoon, they're totally crashing.

tedtalks 14:57
14:59

These are your children and grandchildren that are totally melting down

tedtalks 14:59
15:01

when you pick them up, because they haven't had lunch.

tedtalks 15:01
15:04

So if the only thing they'd have to do after lunch is go to class,

tedtalks 15:04
15:07

believe me, they're going to sit there and eat their lunch.

tedtalks 15:07
15:09

We need to --

tedtalks 15:09
15:11

we need to educate.

tedtalks 15:11
15:13

We need to educate the kids.

tedtalks 15:13
15:15

We need to educate the staff.

tedtalks 15:15
15:17

I had 90 employees.

tedtalks 15:17
15:19

Two were supposed to be cooks -- none could.

tedtalks 15:19
15:22

And, you know, I'm not that better off now.

tedtalks 15:22
15:24

But we really have to educate.

tedtalks 15:24
15:27

We have to get academic institutions to start thinking

tedtalks 15:27
15:30

about ways to teach people how to cook again,

tedtalks 15:30
15:32

because, of course, they don't --

tedtalks 15:32
15:34

because we've had this processed food in schools

tedtalks 15:34
15:36

and institutions for so long.

tedtalks 15:36
15:38

We need 40-minute lunches --

tedtalks 15:38
15:40

most schools have 20-minute lunches --

tedtalks 15:40
15:42

and lunches that are time-appropriate.

tedtalks 15:42
15:44

There was just a big study done, and so many schools

tedtalks 15:44
15:46

are starting lunch at nine and 10 in the morning.

tedtalks 15:46
15:48

That is not lunchtime.

tedtalks 15:49
15:52

You know, it's crazy. It's crazy what we're doing.

tedtalks 15:52
15:54

And just remember,

tedtalks 15:54
15:56

at very least tacitly,

tedtalks 15:56
15:59

this is what we're teaching children

tedtalks 15:59
16:01

as what they should be doing.

tedtalks 16:01
16:03

I think if we're going to fix this,

tedtalks 16:03
16:05

one of the things we have to do

tedtalks 16:05
16:07

is really change how we have oversight

tedtalks 16:07
16:09

over the National School Lunch Program.

tedtalks 16:09
16:12

Instead of the National School Lunch Program being under the USDA,

tedtalks 16:12
16:14

I think it should be under CDC.

tedtalks 16:14
16:17

If we started to think about food

tedtalks 16:17
16:19

and how we feed our kids

tedtalks 16:19
16:21

as a health initiative,

tedtalks 16:22
16:25

and we started thinking about food as health,

tedtalks 16:25
16:28

then I think we wouldn't have corn dogs

tedtalks 16:28
16:30

as lunch.

tedtalks 16:30
16:33

Okay, Finance 101 on this,

tedtalks 16:33
16:36

and this -- I'm sort of wrapping it up with this finance piece,

tedtalks 16:36
16:39

because I think this is something we all have to understand.

tedtalks 16:39
16:41

The National School Lunch Program spends 8 billion dollars

tedtalks 16:41
16:43

feeding 30 million children a year.

tedtalks 16:43
16:45

That number probably needs to double.

tedtalks 16:45
16:48

People say, "Oh my God, where are we going to get 8 billion?"

tedtalks 16:48
16:52

In this country, we're spending 110 billion dollars a year

tedtalks 16:52
16:55

on fast food.

tedtalks 16:55
16:57

We spend 100 billion dollars a year

tedtalks 16:57
16:59

on diet aids.

tedtalks 16:59
17:01

We spend 50 billion dollars on vegetables,

tedtalks 17:01
17:04

which is why we need all the diet aids.

tedtalks 17:04
17:07

We spend 200 billion dollars a year

tedtalks 17:07
17:10

on diet-related illness today,

tedtalks 17:10
17:13

with nine percent of our kids having type 2 diabetes.

tedtalks 17:13
17:15

200 billion.

tedtalks 17:15
17:17

So you know what, when we talk

tedtalks 17:17
17:20

about needing 8 billion more, it's not a lot.

tedtalks 17:20
17:23

That 8 billion comes down to two dollars and 49 cents --

tedtalks 17:23
17:26

that's what the government allocates for lunch.

tedtalks 17:26
17:29

Most school districts spend two thirds of that on payroll and overhead.

tedtalks 17:29
17:32

That means we spend less than a dollar a day

tedtalks 17:32
17:34

on food for kids in schools --

tedtalks 17:34
17:38

most schools, 80 to 90 cents. In L.A., it's 56 cents.

tedtalks 17:39
17:42

So we're spending less than a dollar, OK, on lunch.

tedtalks 17:42
17:44

Now I don't know about you,

tedtalks 17:44
17:46

but I go to Starbucks and Pete's and places like that,

tedtalks 17:46
17:49

and venti latte in San Francisco is five dollars.

tedtalks 17:49
17:51

One gourmet coffee,

tedtalks 17:51
17:53

one, is more --

tedtalks 17:53
17:56

we spend more on than we are spending to feed kids

tedtalks 17:56
17:59

for an entire week

tedtalks 17:59
18:01

in our schools.

tedtalks 18:01
18:04

You know what? We should be ashamed.

tedtalks 18:05
18:08

We, as a country, should be ashamed

tedtalks 18:08
18:10

at that.

tedtalks 18:10
18:12

The richest country.

tedtalks 18:12
18:14

In our country,

tedtalks 18:14
18:17

it's the kids that need it the most,

tedtalks 18:17
18:19

who get this really, really lousy food.

tedtalks 18:19
18:21

It's the kids who have parents and grandparents

tedtalks 18:21
18:24

and uncles and aunts that can't even afford

tedtalks 18:25
18:28

to pay for school lunch that gets this food.

tedtalks 18:28
18:30

And those are the same kids

tedtalks 18:30
18:33

who are going to be getting sick.

tedtalks 18:33
18:36

Those are the same kids who we should be taking care of.

tedtalks 18:36
18:39

We can all make a difference.

tedtalks 18:39
18:41

That every single one of us,

tedtalks 18:41
18:43

whether we have children,

tedtalks 18:43
18:46

whether we care about children, whether we have nieces or nephews,

tedtalks 18:46
18:48

or anything --

tedtalks 18:48
18:50

that we can make a difference.

tedtalks 18:50
18:52

Whether you sit down and eat a meal with your kids,

tedtalks 18:52
18:54

whether you take your kids, or grandchildren,

tedtalks 18:54
18:57

or nieces and nephews shopping

tedtalks 18:57
19:00

to a farmers' market. Just do tastings with them.

tedtalks 19:00
19:02

Sit down and care.

tedtalks 19:02
19:04

And on the macro level,

tedtalks 19:04
19:06

we're in what seems to be

tedtalks 19:06
19:10

a 19-month presidential campaign,

tedtalks 19:10
19:12

and of all the things we're asking

tedtalks 19:12
19:14

all of these potential leaders,

tedtalks 19:14
19:16

what about asking for the health of our children?

tedtalks 19:16
19:17

Thank you.