Our Phone Call with Sec. Vilsack: USDA Reaches Out to Advocates, Bloggers in Promoting Child Nutriti

January 29, 2010

Team-blog

Last week, we had a personal phone call with USDA Secretary Tom
Vilsack
! Well, not completely personal. Many of our favorite
bloggers and school food advocates joined in on the first blogger
conference call with the USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack. The purpose of the
call was to announce the USDA's partnership with the National Dairy Council and the NFL to launch the new “Fuel Up to Play 60” program. (You can listen to the call here or see a transcript here.)

Futp60It's a great program. Getting the NFL involved in
promoting healthy eating and physical activity is huge in terms of
getting the message to kids. And of course the Dairy Council has a
broad network and great resources for getting the word out about this
important message. We're thrilled to help spread the word about Fuel Up to Play 60.

One
of the best things about the call was that Secretary Vilsack fielded
questions from bloggers. We were able to ask the Secretary about the
upcoming Child Nutrition Act reauthorization and the role that high
profile campaigns such as FUP60 play in changing nutrition policy.

The
fact that the Secretary of Agriculture is reaching out to food and
policy bloggers — taking questions from many writers who get their
messages out entirely through new media, blogging and Tweeting their
ideas — is in itself an indicator of just how much the USDA has
changed under the Obama administration. (This is the same agency that recently announced
a competition to design an online game for transforming 'tween eating
habits. You can check out more of the USDA's new media efforts here.)
It's one more example of efforts to innovate and to expand the network
of people who can help spread health-promoting messages.

And Secretary Vilsack's answer to our question only supported my impression that it's a new day at the USDA.

In
short, Secretary Vilsack emphasized the importance of advocacy, the
need for individuals and organizations to get involved to make real
change. He talked about why we need to show Congress that school food
is not a niche issue that affects a subset of people but is rather a
major challenge that touches on health care, farm policy, even national defense.
Program such as FUP60 can help build that awareness. Showing that
school food matters to NFL players and dairy farmers can only help.

While
this isn't totally groundbreaking, it is interesting and very, very
encouraging to hear the  head of the USDA talking openly about building
networks to advocate for changing nutrition policy.

All of a sudden, the USDA is the biggest advocate for school food policy change. That's new.

Of
course, this isn't to say that we can sit back and take a break. We all
have a lot of work ahead of us in the coming months to continue the
push to improve nutrition, health and safety standards for school food.
But it does mean that we'll be doing this work with the knowledge that
the USDA is listening and is interested in working with us.

Now we need to take that message to Congress.