Film maker, activist, Amy Kalafa
Amy Kalafa is the Producer / Director of Two Angry Moms. Since childhood, Amy has been passionate about social justice and environmental issues. She is now compelled to express that passion by speaking out as an Angry Mom fighting for the health of America's kids.
For over 15 years, Amy has produced award-winning films, television programs and magazine articles in the field of health education. Amy's production credits include three seasons of Dr. T. Berry Brazelton's parenting show, "What Every Baby Knows", PBS specials, "Our Nation's Health: A Matter of Choice" and "Healthy Aging", as well as the Reiner Foundation's, "The First Years Last Forever". She has produced food and health segments for "Martha Stewart Living" and has appeared as a guest chef on PBS's, "Cultivating Life".
Amy holds a Lectureship at the Yale School of Medicine and Psychiatry for her work in the field of health communication, particularly in recognition of a series she created for Court TV, "Inside the Criminal Mind". As a subcontractor, Amy has worked on numerous training films for Yale University and the US Department of Education. She is the Executive Producer of a grant-funded project, "The Trauma Business" in cooperation with the New York State Psychiatric Center and Columbia University.
Amy is also a holistic health and nutrition counselor and a Lyme Disease consultant. Her advocacy work extends to her personal life as well. She served a four-year term on the advisory board of the Weston / Westport Health District's CDC funded "Target Lyme" prevention initiative and she is a founding board member of the AIDS Treatment Data Network, a certified Kripalu Yoga teacher and an organic farmer. Amy and her husband, filmmaker Alex Gunuey, have two daughters who have always "brought" their lunch to school.
As one half of the dynamic duo Two Angry Moms Filmmaker Amy Kalafa is on a mission to transform school lunch programs and the school lunch environment, around the country, one school at a time. Amy and Susan Rubin, the other half of Two Angry Moms, are winning fans and making a huge difference in the way our kids eat and ultimately expanding the possibility that they will lead healthy lives. And, you can get involved!
DR: As one of the members of Two Angry Moms, the first thing that I'd like to ask you is:
"What are you so angry about?"
AK: The name Two Angry Moms came about from a conversation that I had with Susan Rubin who is the other angry mom. Susan is the mom that I follow in the movie who learned from her fight for better school food. She had been fighting for ten years before I met her so I figured that she was a leader and I wanted to learn from her what I could do. She said to me "We're just two angry moms trying to get better food for our kids".
Two Angry Moms, Susan Rubin and Amy Kalafa
You become angry when you start to see what's going on.
I remember that food wasn't so good when I was a kid and if you could bring your own lunch to school, you would. I felt that my kids were just lucky because since I had learned about the importance of good food from my own health issues, my husband and I fed my kids good food and we were sending them to school with a good healthy lunch everyday. Then I started hearing in the media about childhood obesity and type II diabetes at such an early age I felt like I wanted to share my own knowledge about healthy food and I'm a film maker so I thought I'd make a film about this.
I kept pitching ideas to The Food Network and other places and everybody said it wasn't a sexy topic and that it wouldn't sell, the advertisers wouldn't like it, that they didn't want to get political, and all of that kind of stuff. So I decided to make an independent documentary and I was trying to think about how I could choose an angle that would reach the most people. I thought that school food was a good angle because it is a microcosm of the American food culture in general.
I went to my daughter's middle school just to remind myself of how the food program works because I hadn't been to a cafeteria since I was a kid. It's funny but its one of those things parents don't pay a lot of attention to. You can print out in a lot of schools now, what your child has charged on the school credit card. We give our daughter a little bit of money for snacks or if she forgot her lunch one day...And we found out from those print outs that you can make a meal out of chips and rice crispy treats and pop tarts and nobody is there to tell you that it is not okay. She was doing it! My kid! I was shocked.
We have learned about the poor quality of school food but I didn't realize that in addition to what is supposed to be the "healthy meal", that they can also just buy junk food because the schools were making money on it. That was a real revelation for me and, yeah, that got me angry.
DR: So is that what you were referring to earlier when you said that "once you saw what was going on" you got angry?
AK: There is so much denial.
One of the people that I interviewed for the film said that:
You wouldn't have an unhealthy playground. You wouldn't teach your kids things that you don't believe, whatever that might be, in terms of curriculum or academics. You wouldn't send them the wrong messages in terms of any educational subject so why are we giving them completely wrong messages in terms of what we are feeding them in schools?
You wouldn't deliberately poison children but that is essentially what is happening and a lot of school administrators just don't want to be forced to look at that because they have so many other things that they have to deal with.
DR: So is that the answer that you got then? About why it is that schools don't seem to be dealing with this – that they have too many other things to deal with?
AK: When I started making the film I knew that I was going to have to answer every answer that I got so I made a list of the answers. Off the top of my head they are:
- We can't afford better food
- The kids won't eat better food
- Our lunch ladies don't have the training to cook and serve better food
- We don't have the facilities to prepare better food
- We can't source better food
- There is no time for the kids to eat better food
So essentially all of those responses were:
"This is not a prioroity. This is not a priority. This is not a priority."
I realized that if I wanted to be an advocate, my job was to make this a priority. That is what the movie and then the movement are doing – making the entire school food environment a priority.
There are so many great things happening now. I started the movie four years ago and in four years I've been so inspired by the changes I've seen. I just got back from a conference in Burlington, Vermont about Farm to School. I met with so many great lunch ladies and farm service directors who get this and who are making those really essential changes of linking with local farms and teaching their staff to cook and serve real food; whole food. I met teachers and people from boards of education and administrators, so the movement is definitely catching on which is really great.
DR: That is really great.
What is it that you've been most pleased about in terms of the impact that the film and the movement are having?
AK: I have been really pleased that the movement has become a media story because, as I said, I probably spent about 22 years trying to sell the idea to the media. There was no interest. Now there is just so much interest. People think I should be upset because there are so many other stories out there now, but I am not upset. I am thrilled! It is exciting that this is a story and that there are a lot of stories and that people are talking about this and that some of the people in the movie are now media stars in their own right. It's exciting to see that people who are food service directors are now rock stars.
HOST A SCREENING
Host a Screening
Would you like to host a screening of TWO ANGRY MOMS in your local theater or community center, for a PTO/PTA meeting, or a house party screening?
You can also meet Amy and/or Susan, the TWO ANGRY MOMS. We'll travel to your district to show the movie and lead a question and answer session afterwards.
Become a Corporate or Non-Profit Partner
If your organization’s mission agrees with ours, you may be eligible to become a Sponsor along with the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, The Marion Institute, Weston A. Price Foundation, New York Coalition for Healthy School Food, Bioneers, Francine's Organic Kids, and Equal Exchange. For more information on the exposure you will get with a tax-deductible sponsorship, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Address: Two Angry Moms | Box 783 | Georgetown, CT.06829-0783
DR: Yeah! Exactly!
AK: We had the celebrity chef in the ‘80s and now it's glamorous to be a lunch lady.
DR: What do you think was the turning point in terms of the media catching on to the movement?
AK: Timing is everything and you never know when something is going to happen.
When I started the movie I put up a website right away and right away I had thousands of people sign up and send money. My own personal frustration really did resonate with a lot of people and they found me. It was really grass roots. So, to answer your question about what is the most exciting thing for me, it's that this is something that parents or anybody, in their own local school districts, can impact.
Organizing in your own community is not that hard. If you are persistent and persuasive and being nice, things can really change. One community impacts another community. It's the grass roots and viral aspect of it that I find really exciting.
DR: For the mom out there Amy, who might be reading this interview and contemplating this issue for the first time, what can you share with her that would really communicate the relevance of this movement to her own life?
AK: If you are a mom and you care about your kids you do what you have to do to protect them. I would say to any mom – look at what is in the food and really stop to think about that and you'll be shocked. Start reading labels on the things that are being promoted as healthy and learn about what in this food. It's very basic:
If you can't pronounce it or if there are more than three or four ingredients, you probably shouldn't be feeding it to your kids.
DR: Remember when that book French Women Don't Get Fat came out?
AK: Yes I do.
DR: Remember the media tour and the answer to the question "Why do American women get fat when we eat the same amount of food basically that French women do?"
DR: The answer was something like "French women take their time when they eat and they respect, honor and enjoy the act of eating." I always felt that that was just too simple. And what I have learned, and I want to know what you think about this, is that it's the preservatives that we put in our food that make us fat.
AK: It's the anti nutrients.
If you think about it, not only do those kinds of foods with all those fillers and preservatives and colorings and what not, not have real nutrition, they actually take nutrition out of your body because it takes all of your body's energy to digest and get rid of them because they are toxins.
AK: Our bodies are working hard to get rid of this stuff so we are literally hungry and so we eat more because we need more nutrition to counteract the bad nutrition.
If you are living on a diet that is really junkie, you are just not getting the basic stuff that a good nutritionist will tell you that you need. There are all kinds of necessary vitamins and minerals and enzymes that are not in processed food.
So, yeah, we are fatter because we need to eat more because we are starving.
If you start buying real whole foods from the farmers market, if you are lucky enough to have one, you will naturally eat less because you will have to slow down to prepare it. You will have to take longer to eat whole food because you can't just shovel it down; you usually have to really chew that kind of food.
We have to unlearn the ways that we have been eating. We have to do it more consciously than other people do in places where they are just brought up eating well.
So that mom that we are talking to? She should go to school see what's on the menu, start reading the ingredients and really decide whether or not she wants her child to be eating that for one hundred and eighty days a year. She should ask herself if that food is going to contribute to her child being a high performer.
DR: And then, if you are sending your kids to summer camp, that's a whole other thing to factor in. You aren't even there to give even one good meal a day...
What do you hope that the film will ultimately accomplish?
AK: I really hope that it will create a tipping point.
The film is a tool and step one of an action plan for parents, or anybody who cares about kids, to use to organize in their community. All of the other steps are kind of what we have talked about in terms of going to your school and seeing what is on the menu, hosting a screening of the movie and collecting names and then becoming part of a wellness committee.
What I hope that it accomplishes is to create a lot of groups of people who see this as a priority and if that happens we will have hit a tipping point.
We have a petition on the website that we are asking everybody to sign and I think once we get two million people to sign up we will start to see policy on a federal level and better policies on the state level. We will see more access to really good food in schools. Not just the cafeteria, it's really the entire school environment that needs to be addressed. That is the other piece that I hope the film will accomplish is broadening the conversation from childhood obesity and type II diabetes to every aspect of our kid's lives because every aspect of our kid's lives is impacted by school food environment. It's just so much bigger than those two diseases which are scary enough.
DR: I couldn't agree with you more. Could you give me an example of how kids are impacted beyond those two issues?
AK: We talk about this in the movie, and I've got the statistics to back this up. Things like learning disorders, behavioral and emotional disorders are all mitigated by what kids eat. Your kids' neuro transmitters need to be nourished and if they are not you can expect to get every kind of behavioral disorder. We are seeing sever anxiety, bipolar disorder...There is a crazy article that I read years ago and I researched it and sure enough it's true –
A lot of school districts are banning tag from recess because kids were falling and breaking bones.
This had never happened in history before but our kids are so fragile now that their bones are breaking just playing tag on the playground.
DR: Wow. I had not heard that. That is really sobering...
AK: it's really quite frightening when you think about it and it's easy to reverse. It is something that we have done and something that we can undo.
DR: Years ago I read that Bill Gates' vision for Microsoft is
"A computer on every desk"
It's so simple and yet so big. You might remember it. I'm wondering what your vision is for Two Angry Moms.
AK: It's simple:
Kids really learning about food and learning to connect the cafeteria to the classroom
School gardens. We are seeing a ripple of school gardens this year like never before. I remember when Alice Waters had the first and the only.
AK: They are popping up everywhere and that is a huge piece of this connection because when kids get their hands dirty and see things grow, they will taste things that they would have never tasted.
DR: I've been hoping that would catch on and I am glad to hear that...
AK: It's a way into the school system that is not confrontational.
It's really hard to go to your lunch lady and say "You are doing a terrible job. I hate what you are feeding my kids". You are going to get push back if you do that. But, if you go to your lunch lady and say that you have gotten permission from the administration to plant a school garden and "Will you use what they grow"...
DR: Do you get success with that approach.
We are seeing the gardens as a really good toehold.
DR: I'd imagine that among other things, a school garden – growing their own food and preparing their own food -- will boost a kid's self esteem and their curiosity.
AK: Exactly! It applies to every aspect of the curriculum and it applies to every age group and it's the only topic that you can learn about with all of your five senses. We talk about multi sensory learning; well this is where we can accomplish that.
DR: It just makes a lot of sense.
AK: Anecdotally, I am hearing from teachers and parents that kids who have learning issues latch on to the gardening and all of a sudden they become a star because it is a different way of learning and it engages different types of learners who find that they are really good at something.
DR: A hundred years from now what do you want to be remembered for?
AK: I want to be remembered by my great, great grandchildren as being that crazy relative who had the courage to really put herself out there.
TWO TO TWO MILLION ANGRY MOMS PETITION
I support efforts to bring out the best in our children by making the school food environment a priority in our school district.
Former Texas Secretary of Agriculture Susan Combs said, "It's going to take two million angry moms to change school food." Angrymoms.org aims to collect two million angry moms to send a clear message to school administrators, state and national legislators, and government officials acknowledging the connection between nutritious food and better children's health and scholastic performance. We need to establish an imperative for taking better care of our kids by offering better food in schools.
Learn more about Two Angry Moms, visit their website at: http://www.angrymoms.org