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American museums retire junk food to history exhibit, begin serving healthy foods to children

Museum food

(NaturalNews) It looks as though America's rejection of junk food is much more than just a passing phase. It looks as though it's a movement, one which is gaining favor in more quarters each year.

Now, as NPR reports, it is even reaching into our institutions of history and other places where Americans like to spend recreational time:

When Rachel Mollen strolls into the cafe at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens in Pittsburgh with her 5-year-old son, she knows exactly the kind of food they will eat.

"Will, he's the youngest of four, and he wanted to do something special today," Mollen says. "I was trying to think of some place that we could go for lunch and have a healthy lunch and do something fun."

His meal that day consisted of a vegan cheese pizza, a fruit salad and low-fat white milk. His mother said Will prefers chocolate milk, but that's an item that isn't even on the cafe's menu.

Back in 2011, as first lady Michelle Obama's "Let's Move" healthy foods initiative was really ramping up, and the organic food industry continued its rapid growth, the conservatory's cafe made a decision to begin serving healthful food. Eliminated from the menu was all junk and sodas, said Richard Piacentini, the cafe's executive director.

Built-in problem

He told NPR that the goal was to reflect the museum's values.

"You see, a lot of people come here now because they know they can bring their kids in and they're not going to have to have a battle with their children over the kind of food they're going to eat," said the the father of 10-year-old twins. "Some [other] places like to give choices. We decided that choices create an opportunity for conflict."

The Phipps Cafe, like the Mitsitam Native Foods Cafe at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C., is part of a new healthy foods trend in museums and zoos around the country, which are working to replace standard fare like corn dogs, burgers and French fires, with better, mission-oriented dishes, said Elizabeth Merritt, founding director of the Center for the Future of Museums, also in D.C., which is an initiative launched by the American Alliance of Museums.

"One of the things museums are very aware of is that they have a bigger responsibility to their communities. And part of those responsibilities are to be aware of issues like obesity and attendant diseases, like diabetes or high blood pressure," Merritt told NPR.

However, she added, there's a built-in problem for many of the alliance's 4,000 members around the country; most don't have enough control over what's being served in their food courts and dining spaces, since the fare is provided by contractors.

Most often such contracts permit the food service company to take in a percentage of sales, "which of course gives them an enormous incentive both to choose menu items that are very popular and sell well, and have as high as possible a profit margin," Merritt noted, even if the food contradicts the museum's overall mission.

'There is a process to this'

Cases in point: The marquee culture institutions in Cleveland demonstrate what can happen when they attempt to change menus, NPR reported. At the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, popular local chef Zack Bruell took over the museum's food service contract and began to infuse the menu with new, healthier food choices on instruction from the museum's managers – something which he says must be gradual.

"There is a process to this. You can't just hit people over the head with it in Cleveland, Ohio," Bruell said. "There's a different mentality here, and we have to do it slowly. But I do believe that the food we're doing here is healthy, because we're doing it from scratch."

But when the Children's Museum of Cleveland tried to add fresh fruit to the menu and take away sugary sodas, the fruit just spoiled and parents complained so much that soda was brought back.

On a positive note, however, the Cleveland Zoo is also offering healthier fare, NPR reported.





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