Rachael Ray on New School Lunch Documentary: 'We Dumb Down Their Palates' (Video)

10:30 PM PST 03/05/2014 by Kanika Lal

Director James Costa talks with THR about his documentary "Lunch Hour," which features Rachael Ray and Robin Quivers.

"I couldn’t believe my eyes," director James Costa told The Hollywood Reporter. "It was a meat product glued to the middle of bread. I went to the school lady and asked if this was a joke, and she replied, 'no this a good day.'" In Costa’s 75 minute film, the director examined the school lunch program and documented the heightened concern over students and the lack of nutritional value many take in during lunch.

The National School Lunch Program operates in over 100,000 public and non-profit private schools, providing food to more than 31 million students each school day. Costa's documentary makes the disturbing allegation that poor quality food served during school lunches is partly to blame for the child obesity epidemic. 

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"I asked myself, 'do I walk away from it or do my little part and fix it? So, I'll do a documentary." said Costa, who is also chairman for Hunt's Point Alliance for Children.

Television personality Rachael Ray, who had just returned from the South Beach Wine and Food festival, told THR about her heavy involvement in this issue. "I've been following this issue for 10 years. When James shared more about his documentary with us, it was a no-brainer that I wanted to participate."

In the documentary, Ray touched on the unfortunate yet truthful facts of nutrition in America. She noted that "many kids already have blockages in their hearts by the time they graduate high school. Kids as young as 9 are taking cholesterol medicines, trying to clean out their arteries. We did this to them," she added. "We dumb down their palates."

Among the experts enlisted in the documentary are USA Today investigative reporter, Peter Eisler, who shared his findings on the next generation's intake in their diet, N.Y. State Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, radio talk-show host Robin Quivers and multiple doctors and authors who shed light on the issue. A statistic that worries experts is that 50 percent of children from ages 2 to 15 have fatty streaks in their arteries, which is the beginning of heart disease. 

"I tried to make it [the documentary] where we look at school food, how did we get to these eating habits, are we teaching our kids healthy food and taking a look at ourselves," said Costa of the film's content that took eight months to shoot. "We all need something bad when something good happens. It's part of the American culture of eating. What I hope is that people take a step back and ask, 'is this me?' If everybody continues to make a couple of steps, it will change."

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The efforts to spread healthy eating habits are increasing, however, specifically with Michelle Obama's Let's Move! campaign. The initiative strives to diminish child obesity and place kids on the right path from an early age. President Obama signed a Memorandum at the launch of the organization, creating the first "Task Force on Childhood Obesity" to review every nutritional policy and develop an action plan towards the First Lady's national goal. The First Lady has succeeded in spreading the word and building a web presence through her videos with the Miami Heat basketball team, Will Ferrell, Vice President Joe Biden and President Barack Obama, who have all shared their involvement in healthy eating. Ray, a founder of her own organization, Yum-O!, which also gives back to education and healthy eating, said, "I have always applauded Michelle Obama and her efforts. Whether she is creating awareness or doing actual programs, I guarantee she has gotten a lot of people around the country more active around child nutrition." The First Lady just wrapped up a segment that aired March 5 on Ray's show, highlighting healthy recipes.

"If we made more fresh produce more widespread," said Rachael, "it will be consumed. That, and encouraging people to cook their own meals in and of itself ensures a more nutritious meal."

Recently, as observed by Costa, obesity rates have dropped in ages from 2 to 5, "but we must be cautious because those kids will be entering school and we don't want to ruin the incredible improvements we've made by giving them unhealthy food in school. That would be a real shame. Fingers crossed Lunch Hour can help make that not happen," said Costa.

Lunch Hour has screened at The Soho House in New York and Los Angeles, Core Club in New York City, as well as The Palm Beach Festival. The documentary is now available on iTunesAmazon, Google Play, and Costa is hoping to have it up on Netflix in the coming months.

"We have to get people thinking, 'why do you want something bad in your body? Why is that the norm?'" said Costa. "Love your body, and take care of it. It's the only one we have."

Watch an exclusive clip of the documentary above and click here for the full trailer

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