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Throughout the national health care debate, there has been little mention of a bill that has the potential to dramatically cut health care costs and improve the future health of more than 30 million Americans. It is called the Child Nutrition Act, and it is set to be amended and reauthorized by the end of this year.

Since 1946, the Child Nutrition Act has governed the food we serve to our students through the National School Lunch Program. Usually this bill passes quietly and without much change from its previous form. However, today it is predicted that one in three children born after 2000 is at risk of developing diabetes in their lifetime and one in four children is either overweight or obese. Access to nutritious, wholesome food is an essential part of the foundation for good health. With more than 30 million children eating school food five days a week, 180 days a year, there is a tremendous opportunity to implement simple health reform. We cannot allow this bill to pass without demanding some serious changes in the food we serve to our children.

This Monday, Labor Day, at 6 p.m. at the PEAS Farm, all Missoulians are invited to attend a free community potluck and picnic to join in a national movement that calls for healthful, wholesome foods to be served on every lunch tray in the United States. As a part of Slow Food USA's national Time for Lunch campaign, Americans in over 290 communities in all 50 states will be gathering for similar events, called "eat-ins" (part potluck, part sit-in). Attendees of the Missoula community potluck are asked to bring a dish to share, a blanket to sit on, and plates and utensils.

The Time for Lunch campaign calls for the 2009 Child Nutrition Act to increase federal reimbursement rates by $1 per student per meal. Currently, schools receive $2.57 for each student eligible for a free meal. After paying for labor and equipment, this leaves schools with only about $1 per student to spend on food. An increase of $1 per student per meal would enable school food service directors to purchase ingredients that are healthier for students, our local economies, and the environment.

Missoula's Farm to School program has been working hard for the past four years to increase the amount of nutritious, locally grown foods served in our public school cafeterias. The program has experienced tremendous growth in the volume of local food served to students. However, an increase in federal funding could provide Missoula Farm to School with the necessary resources to further expand its healthy local food offerings to students.

So please join us this Labor Day to learn more about what is already being done in Missoula to promote feeding healthful, local food to students, and what you can do to make sure all students - in Montana and across the country - have access to fresh, wholesome food.

Slow Food USA is a national organization that seeks to create dramatic and lasting change in our food system and envisions a world in which all people can eat food that is good for them, good for the people who grow it and good for the planet. For more information about the Time for Lunch campaign or Slow Food USA, please visit www.slowfoodusa.org/timeforlunch.

The Missoula event is co-sponsored by the Community Food & Agriculture Coalition's Farm to School program, University of Montana Farm to College, edibleMissoula, the North Missoula Community Development Corporation, the Missoula Community Food Co-op, Garden City Harvest, and the UM Environmental Studies program. Contact Kyra Williams at kyra.williams@mso.umt.edu or 243-4042 for more information about the Missoula community potluck.

Lauren Amato is the Missoula Farm to School coordinator for the Community Food & Agriculture Coalition.

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