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* * Marie March sees a way to better nutrition for our children

Marie March is a visionary. Or perhaps just back to the future.

She sees that our children aren’t being well fed in school and she’d like to help fix that.

“My kids have gone to public schools; my oldest just graduated. They have always complained about school lunches. They say the food looks horrible, tastes horrible, and it isn’t healthy.”

Marie is in a position to know, because she’s in the food business, the founder of two Christiansburg restaurants, Due South BBQ and Fatback Soul Shack.

“The kids have tons of carb(ohydrate) options, but little protein on the menu. I’m sure the menus comply with the American guidelines and the Food Pyramid. My husband is a doctor and both of us feel the options aren’t that great.”

They go to Hillsville every week to buy fresh produce and then can it. They meet the local farmers at the produce market. “I started thinking how great it would be if we could incorporate fresh, local food into the school menus,” she said. “We could get higher quality, fresher food from local farmers.”

At her restaurants, she buys local. She procures cornmeal and flour from Big Spring Mill in Elliston. She sources sea-food from the Chesapeake Bay distributors. And she’s working to find a supplier of beef and pork from local farms.

Her impression was that most of the school lunch food was sent to the cafeterias already cooked and highly processed. For example, corn would arrive in gallon cans. It may have been grown in the Midwest or even Mexico. It may have been processed with artificial sugars and preservatives. The industrial canning process cooks out many of the nutrients, and the can itself has a coating that seeps into the food. And the corn may be GMO, or Genetically Modified Organism, thought by many to pose a risk to humans. The corn has little of the original flavor and the kids hate it.

“I believe the better way is eating your local foods, supporting your local economy, the same tax base that provides the money for those school systems to begin with. If this money is being extracted from the (residents and businesses) of this community, wherever possible it should be spent back here. I am big on that in every aspect of my business life. We always support the folks we know.

“Our tabletops were made in Floyd. Our T-shirts were sourced locally. We use reclaimed and salvaged materials for all our store decorating. And of course, our restaurants are in old buildings that had sat vacant for years. My whole world is salvaged!

“We’ve been successful because we support local companies. People who work at Big Spring Mill, for example, eat with us because we know we’re supporting them.

“My husband Jared and I feel so grateful to be here. The community has been so accepting of us. We’ve been here 12 years. The community has helped us. People are so kind.

“What I envision is an overhaul of the school lunch programs. They have to be interested in and willing to make changes and to admit that school lunches suck. That’s the first step to recovery; you’ve got to acknowledge the problem. It’s not that hard (to fix). You get the farmers together with the processors and distributors and you commit to a system of local procurement. You start a pilot program at one school. The kids would need to buy into eating it and the parents would need to buy into supporting it.”

I asked if she thought each lunch would cost more to the students. She wasn’t sure. But she was convinced the cost would be worth it. Noting that schools are for teaching and learning, she said that we teach our children about nutrition, but we don’t honor that education by feeding them well.

I noted that for many of the poorer kids in our communities, the school lunch is their best meal of the day. And then it’s not as nutritious as it should be.

She said, “I think these epidemics of diabetes, hypertension, and obesity are all from the food we eat. We offer the best food we can to our customers. Why are we feeding our children so poorly? I would be willing to donate some of my time and expertise to get this going.”

We noted that in bygone days, school lunches were sourced nearby and cooked fresh. Only with the advent of industrialized food production did that so dramatically change. It was all farm to table; that was all there was. Maybe it’s time to go back.

“We are indoctrinating our children at a young age that nutrition doesn’t matter,” Marie claimed. “And that’s terrible.”

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