When longtime documentary filmmaker Amy Kalafa — a Peabody, Emmy, and Cable Ace nominee and the winner of a Connecticut Vision Award — teamed up with dentist-turned-nutritionist Susan Rubin to make Two Angry Moms, the pair was unprepared for the huge waves their little documentary about the woeful state of affairs in US school lunchrooms would make. Kalafa was shocked by the publishers and agents who wanted more, more, more: "'I made a movie; why would I want to start all over with a book?' was my initial response."But as the film ran a seemingly endless festival circuit, getting attention from everyone from the BBC to USA Today, Kalafa received queries from an audience far closer to her heart — concerned parents and others who'd seen the movie and now needed more help in furthering the movement for better food choices for kids. "I found myself spending hours each day writing long responses to as many of these inquiries as I could," Kalafa said. "One agent in particular was very persistent. She was personally concerned about the topic, and with her help, we turned my hard drive into the manual that I was looking for when I first began my quest to learn what I could do to create a healthier, more appetizing, and more sustainable school food environment."
The resulting book is Lunch Wars, densely packed with the kind of information that could move even the most head-shaking cynic to pay a visit to his or her child's lunchroom. There's a list of the "Scary Six" substances to watch out for in foods — residues, flavorings, additives, hydrogenated oils, sugar, and artificial sweeteners — and detailed breakdowns of what they mean and the harm they can do to kids' health in the present and long term. The book contains observations on the dramatic difference seen in behavior after a class gobbles up a sugary snack on a field trip; explanations of the well-meaning but sometimes self-defeating National School Lunch, Universal Free Breakfast and Lunch, and Healthy Food Certification programs; and eye-opening looks at the vending machine and lunchroom offerings at a variety of schools in a wide range of communities. "I sent my kids to school with a packed lunch for many years," recalled Kalafa, who will be at A Great Good Place for Books (6120 LaSalle Ave., Oakland) on Wednesday, August 31. "I went to my daughter's middle school cafeteria and learned from a computer printout that she had been purchasing all manner of junk food on a daily basis. I realized that the message in the cafeteria was 'anything goes' even if the kids were being taught to 'grab five' and 'eat the rainbow.'"
Once the reader is appropriately angered, Lunch Wars inspires through dozens of real-life success stories, then provides everything a parent needs to make a difference in their school district: sample press releases and questionnaires, information on farm-to-school programs, meaty instruction on how to get food systems education into the curriculum, and tips on organizing and advocating both locally and nationally."Every parent needs to be concerned," said Kalafa, "because the current school-food environment in most districts is hazardous to the health of all children." 7 p.m., free. 510-339-8210 or GreatGoodPlace.indiebound.com