Say the word “malnutrition” and the image that comes to mind is probably the shirtless 3rd World child with a bulging belly and large, sad eyes that you've seen for years on TV. But the plump-cheeked American kid may be suffering from malnutrition too–though perhaps not from lack of food.

One in four American children is overweight or obese and one in three will develop diabetes in their lifetime. And while the causes are myriad, access to healthy food choices at home and in schools is a direct contributor to the epidemic. Those numbers have very real implications for our health care system–childhood obesity alone is estimated to cost $14 billion a year in direct health care expenses, according to a recent study by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

With more than 30 million children currently enrolled in the National School Lunch Program, the people at Slow Food USA see a unique opportunity to turn this trend around. The National School Lunch Program, which is part of the Child Nutrition Act, is up for renewal at the end of September and the organization has mobilized a grassroots campaign called Time For Lunch to ask Congress to better fund the program, to establish better nutritional standards for the foods served to kids through the program and to fund programs that teach kids healthy eating habits.

Around the country, Slow Food chapters are organizing Eat-Ins on Labor Day as part of a mission to draw attention to the importance lunch plays in the health of our children and in the health of our economy. There are currently 234 Eat-Ins scheduled in 49 of our 50 states and six here in the greater Los Angeles area. Lisa Lucas Talbot of Slow Food LA says, “We are in the process of inviting legislators who will shape–and vote on–the Child Nutrition Act that will come before Congress after the recess. We are also inviting local politicians, members of the media, families… everyone is affected, directly and indirectly, by the Child Nutrition Act, so we're hoping to have a cross-section of the community at each eat-in. We're also sending invitations to local schools to encourage participation by teachers, administrators, and other staff.”

Leah Greenstein writes at and is the co-author of the Food Blog Code of Ethics.

LA Weekly