Every day, millions of school children across the United States grab a lunch tray and get in line. Few, if any, know the history behind the line or that they have the power to change what gets placed on the tray.
The new documentary, Lunch Line, which is presented by Applegate Farms and premieres October 6 at Landmark's Sunshine Cinema, 143 East Houston St., in New York City, uses the current vampire craze to educate viewers about the National School Lunch Program's past and empower them to be part of solutions that can help build a better lunch.
"When one of the teen subjects of the film told us about her love of the Twilight saga and how the opposing forces came together in the book series to save the heroine, we knew we had a way to translate the narrative of the National School Lunch Program's surprising history and the unexpected ways it has grown and changed over the years in a compelling way," said Michael Graziano, who co-directed the film with Ernie Park, his partner at Uji Films. "The film pulls back the curtain to reveal, through school lunch, how large-scale social change can work – especially through unlikely alliances," said Park.
The film already has screened in Detroit, Chicago and Washington, DC and is scheduled to debut in Atlanta, Houston and Los Angeles as well as through community screenings sponsored by non-profits, school districts and parent groups.
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Lunch Line follows the personal story of six high school students from Chicago who enter a cooking contest to create a healthier school lunch and end up serving their winning meal to congressional leaders and touring the White House with executive mansion chefs. The tale of the students from Tilden Career Community Academy High School is interspersed with animation of Democrats portrayed as werewolves and Republicans as vampires, as well as archival footage and interviews with current leaders from both ends of the lunch line, including government officials, school foodservice experts and activists.
The Tilden students were challenged to create a meal that exceeds United States Department of Agriculture standards and use only $1 per meal for ingredients – the average amount spent on food per child for the National School Lunch Program, according to Rochelle Davis, executive director of the Healthy Schools Campaign, the non-profit organization that holds the "Cooking Up Change" contest that the Tilden students won. "These students were faced with the challenges faced by foodservice directors across the country," said Davis. "Yet, they also seized the opportunity to learn about school food systems and the need for change."
"The story of the Tilden kids is what hooked me, and I hope they will inspire other young people to be active in their school community," said Stephen McDonnell, founder and CEO of Applegate Farms, the company presenting the film. "By participating in the process and speaking up about the need to improve funding for the National School Lunch Program, the Tilden kids showed how we all can get involved to make real and lasting change."
Inspired by Lunch Line and the Chicago students, Applegate Farms, a leading provider of natural and organic meats and cheeses, created a resource, www.eattoanewbeat.com. The website uses art, music and dance to empower kids to eat better, learn about real food and understand how they can create change in their own "lunch lines" at school.
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The filmmakers and McDonnell agree that Lunch Line's debut at the Farm to Cafeteria Conference is very timely given the dialogue about child nutrition.
"Childhood obesity rates continue to rise but we believe obesity is a symptom of a much larger problem," said McDonnell. "People need help understanding where their food comes from, how it's made, and how their choices affect their health. If we can help young kids understand how food affects their lives from the farm to their bodies, it's more likely that they'll enjoy healthier and more active lifestyles into adulthood."