Getting rid of the Harmful 7

Chef Ann continues to redefine what a school lunch should be

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Courtesy of Laura Smith/Susan Enfield
BVSD strives to provide healthy meals from scratch for children.

Pesticides, trans fats, high fructose syrup: Our modern lives are surrounded by ingredients that many argue are undermining our health slowly but surely. While there is a growing number of clean-eating options at restaurants and grocery stores, school food is often an afterthought. Even if parents are careful about their children’s diets, they usually have no control over what their kids are eating at school: oily chicken nuggets, pizza, mac and cheese.

It’s a reality Chef Ann Cooper, director of food services at Boulder Valley School District (BVSD), has been trying to change for more than a decade. Most recently she’s started eliminating seven potentially harmful ingredients from the school lunch program across the district with the help of a grant from Life Time Foundation.

“Corporate agriculture uses 1.2 billion pounds of pesticides each year,” she told a TEDx Manhattan audience in 2013. “That’s a 5-pound bag for every man, woman and child in our country.”

Here in Boulder County, Chef Ann has implemented a number of changes to ensure kids at BVSD have access to healthy food over the past nine years. For example, the cafeterias at BVSD now cook school lunches from scratch, using organic and local ingredients. Even so, she still saw one aspect she wanted to change: the use of certain processed foods.

According to the Life Time Foundation, trans fats and hydrogenated oils increase the risk of heart disease, and high fructose corn syrup can lead to an increased risk of diabetes. Consuming hormones and antibiotics through food may result in antibiotic resistance. Processed and artificial sweeteners can contribute to childhood obesity; artificial colors and flavors are known to increase hyperactivity; artificial preservatives carry potential cancer risks; and bleached flour is often made with hazardous materials such as chlorine. 

Dubbed the Harmful 7 by the Life Time Foundation, Chef Ann says these ingredients aren’t good for anyone to consume, especially children.

“We want our children to be as healthy as possible, and it’s very important that we don’t feed them chemicals and preservatives,” she says. “They have smaller bodies, so the same amount has a larger effect.”

The so-called “Renegade Lunch Lady,” Chef Ann also promotes parent advocacy through her Chef Ann Foundation, getting BVSD parents involved in what their children are eating for lunch.

“I believe our bodies don’t know what to do when they encounter processed foods, additives, preservatives, food coloring and all the other things that Great Grandma wouldn’t recognize as food,” says Bevin Stilson, mother of three children who attend Monarch High School and Louisville Elementary. She’s concerned artificial ingredients may tire children and hinder them from concentrating at school. “With proper nutrition, I think children are better equipped to learn,” she says.

When her son first asked if he could eat in the school cafeteria instead of packing his own lunch every day, Stilson hesitated. “I was skeptical,” she says. However, she eventually agreed after seeing Chef Ann’s efforts to make the food at BVSD greener. “If you leave a veggie tray on the kitchen counter, they’ll eat it, simply because it’s there and they want something easy when they’re hungry,” Stilson says. It must be true because students seem to love Chef Ann’s offerings.

In addition to lunches made from scratch, Chef Ann also introduced salad bars at many of the schools and offers food education events to help kids understand the nutritional effects of the different foods being offered.   

Her programs reached 400,00 children in 2016, and this year, the Chef Ann Foundation is aiming to reach even more. “I think we are helping school districts change their food across the country,” she says.

In recognition of Chef Ann’s tireless effort to improve the health of children, both at BVSD and around the country, she was named a “Top 50 food activists” by the Academy of Culinary Nutrition in 2016.

  • s k

    What a marvelous person! Congrats.

  • The Life Time Foundation sounds like a shady group funded by the organic industry. Its Harmful 7 list looks a lot like the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen list of healthy fruits and vegetables falsely claimed to contain harmful pesticide levels. Research shows that people exposed to the Dirty Dozen are more likely to forgo all fruits and vegetables than others.

    Trans fats are harmful in relevant levels, but high-fructose corn syrup is no worse than any other sweetener; the same can be said for artificial sweeteners. Hormones are present in all meats, but none of the meat for sale contains antibiotics. Artificial colors and flavors are not any worse for humans than “natural” equivalents, and in some cases are less harmful. Artificial preservatives are similarly no worse than natural preservatives such as salt, vinegar, and smoke. And fear of bleached flour is absolutely hilarious.

    How credulous do you have to be to believe that everything natural is automatically safe and healthy? Cyanide, arsenic, curare, snake venom, pyrethrum, rotenone, solanine, and oxalic acid are as natural as smallpox, but they can all kill in the relevant doses. Most are approved for organic farming too.

    Boulderites are wasting their school lunch money on placebo foods. That’s not smart.

    • Cletus DeBunkerman

      Yum, Yum, Pesticides in our children’s lunches. Now you are trying to tell us we are being duped by subversive forces when we choose to get the poisons out of the food we serve our young people.

      Good luck selling that wild eyed conspiracy theory to smart people who want to raise healthy kids.

    • grinninglibber

      This one is a known Monsanto operative. Toxins in your lunch anyone?
      Vet this one.
      Upvoted by another one of his ilk.

      • False, I have no connection with Monsanto or any of the university and government research labs that do the actual work on biotech foods. Please don’t use your identity cloaking to libel decent people on the Internet. And take off that tin foil hat, it’s bad for your brain.

        • patzagame

          Do you have children,Richard? You get upvoted by a zombie who claims to have offspring,and a phake pharmer who obviously is sterile from pesticide exposure. Boulderites are certainly spending their money wisely,contrary to your claim.

    • Rob Bright

      Coming from a well known pro-agrochemical industry spokesperson, your ridiculous, antiscience comment doesn’t surprise me at all…

  • Cletus DeBunkerman

    We need more programs like this. Serious issues related to diet and pesticide exposure are harming our young people.

  • Peter Olins

    Since when is the “Life Time Foundation” a source of rigorous nutritional and food safety information? Its website is devoid of any science relating to nutrition, but include things like “simple tips for reducing your food budget”.

    The website makes absurd claims, such as “…processed, artificial and unhealthy food…” cause a host of medical conditions such as hyperactivity and depression. But not a single piece of evidence.

    The website does not list a president for the “Foundation”, and all the staff members have emails from a fitness club! As far as I can tell, this “foundation” is just a marketing group for the fitness club.

    What I find most pernicious is that this organization is promoting its ideology in schools, where children are most susceptible to indoctrination.

    C’mon, BoulderWeekly, time to do some real reporting, rather that promoting material form a woo-woo activist group.

    • Rob Bright

      Coming from a well known pro-GMO and pro-agochemical industry activist and spokesperson, your comments are hardly surprising. Of course there is plenty of evidence that highly processed foods (eg, “junk food”) is unhealthy. Only an industry apologist would deny there is no evidence of such harm.

    • E. Sandwich

      I saw your picture on the industry astroturf site GMO answers that is run by the Ketchum PR firm for your industry. They have you listed as one of their “go to” PR assets. Are you part of Monsanto’s “Let Nothing Go” program too?

      • patzagame

        He said woo-woo,dead give away to GLP,and perhaps the Let Nothing Go campaign.