Susan Rubin sounds passionate and angry as she describes the junk-food free-for-alls she has seen at schools across the nation.
Students are often surrounded by foods that "are loaded with so many artificial ingredients and additives that you need a Ph.D. in biochemistry to figure out what's in them," says Rubin, a mother from Chappaqua, N.Y., with three school-age daughters.
"Real food doesn't come from a science lab. It grows in the ground, flies in the air, swims in the sea and walks on the ground," says Rubin, 47, one of the stars of Two Angry Moms, a new documentary film about a parental war against the sale of highly processed, sugary foods in U.S. schools.
The other angry mom is the film's producer, Amy Kalafa, 48, of Weston, Conn., a veteran independent filmmaker who has two daughters. She was inspired by a state agricultural official who once said that it would take 2 million angry moms to change school food in the USA.
The women are fighting to remove foods such as chicken nuggets, french fries, cookies, candy, chips, doughnuts, snack cakes and sugary drinks from school vending machines and cafeterias.
The goal? To replace those foods with healthier offerings, such as fresh fruit and vegetables.
The film, which cost roughly $500,000 to make, was financed by Kalafa and her husband, Alexander Gunuey, along with some small grants and donations of $5 to $1,000 from hundreds of concerned parents.
People can buy 10 DVDs and a special information kit for $275, then host screenings in September at homes, school auditoriums and community theaters. In the fall, single DVDs will be available for $25. (See www.angrymoms.org.)
"The documentary is mostly inspirational, a how-to for anybody who watches it," Kalafa says.
"She's the filmmaker; I'm the troublemaker," says Rubin, a dentist-turned-nutritionist who is the founder of the advocacy group Better School Food.
Rubin started on her campaign about 12 years ago when her oldest daughter, then in first grade, came home with candy wrappers in her backpack.
"I was a dentist at the time, and I wondered what was going on. I was worried about cavities. It was before obesity hit the radar screen."
Kalafa was looking for a parent to feature in her film. "I met so many parents who got stuck, but Susan had stepped out of her local school district and created a national group. We met, we hit it off, and I said, 'OK, I'm going to follow you for a year. Let's see what happens.' "
The documentary is already drawing fire from food service directors who say many schools are succeeding in serving nutritious, tasty meals.
"What we are offering is much better than what is represented in the film," says Sharlene Wong, director of food service for the Wallingford (Conn.) Public Schools. She saw a preview of the documentary and has traveled around the country examining lunch programs.
In defense of schools
Wong says many districts have already made improvements. "Our cooking methods have changed. We don't fry chicken nuggets, we bake them. And if they are breaded, we use whole-wheat flour. We have eliminated french fries and added baked sweet-potato wedges.
"We only offer whole-grain breads. … Our pizzas are made with whole-grain crust and low-fat, low-sodium cheese."
Kalafa and Rubin want districts to use more fresh, locally grown produce and offer gardens and cooking classes so kids can get involved.