Op-ed: The goal is health: Measure D brings us closer

The going was tough in the late 1990s when a passionate and diverse group of Berkeley citizen-activists wrote the first school food policy in the nation. Through conflict and compromise, they worked long and hard to get the policy passed and supported by the Board of Education.

Yet, nothing much changed until a middle schooler died of diabetes in 2001.

This event so shocked then-Berkeley School Superintendent Michelle Lawrence that she harnessed her institutional willpower to kickstart the total transformation of the food and nutrition programs in the schools. This awakening, prompted by parents, educators, cooks and community organizers, helped Berkeley take a huge step in the right direction towards protecting our children’s health.

I learned this piece of history when I made “Feeding the Body Politic,” one of the short stories in my documentary Lunch Love Community that explores — from the personal to the socio-political — how Berkeley parents and advocates joined forces to tackle food reform and food justice in the schools and in the neighborhoods.

Just like the original Berkeley Food Policy and the pioneering School Lunch Initiative it inspired, Measure D is not a one-size-fits-all solution. It is simply another important community-driven step in the right direction. By passing Measure D citizens will prove that we can resist and overcome all the massive obstacles the beverage industry is throwing at us.

Dr. David Katz, Director of the Yale Prevention Research Center, writes about how our bodies are connected to the body politic. He offers that:

“The principal argument against regulation and public policy related to our food choices derives from libertarianism: We are autonomous adults, and don’t want to be told what to have for breakfast! Right we are, except that we are being told what to have for breakfast, lunch, and dinner — just not by elected officials accountable to us. We are being manipulated by the willful machinations of big companies accountable only to shareholders. We might all benefit from chewing on the real implications of autonomy, as we sip a gallon-sized something designed to be addictive, and pause to take our medication and check our blood glucose.”

The body politic is powerful when it sets its will towards a destination as important as health. Dr. Katz says unequivocably, “the ultimate defense of the human body is with the body politic.”

A Yes vote for Measure D sends a powerful message that we can combat the onslaught of big money, confusing advertising, and spurious debate about the evidence, and whether this tax will do anything to stop our own personal, family’s and community’s diabetes and other health problems related to soda consumption. To be sure, it is a positive vote that will give us the instruments and resources to make our own decisions about personal and community health.

Measure D is not about virtue, poverty or morals. It tells the soda companies that the citizenry can and will design more effective policy tools to help us protect our bodies and those of our children’s. We have to care about the destination — and how we get to health will include a resounding Yes on Measure D.

Berkeleyside welcomes submissions of op-ed articles. We ask that we are given first refusal to publish. Topics should be Berkeley-related, local authors are preferred, and we don’t publish anonymous pieces. Please email submissions to us. Berkeleyside will publish op-ed pieces at its discretion.

Helen De Michiel is a local filmmaker and writer who spent four years exploring issues around food reform, health, community sustainability and citizen-based democracy for her documentary about Berkeley and school food, 'Lunch Love Community.'