Thursday, April 17, 2008

School lunches just got cool


Fresh food fanatics Ann Cooper and Kate Adamick unveiled their vision for the future of school meals at the Marjorie Luke Theatre yesterday evening in the third installment of the s’Cool Food Initiative events.
Cooper, the director of nutritional services for Berkeley Unified School District, and Adamick, an institutional food consultant working locally with the Orfalea Fund, both painted a picture of a nation mired in an unhealthy, overprocessed and dangerous diet.

“We’re in the throes of a public health time bomb,” Cooper said, pointing out that two-thirds of adults are overweight and the daily intake for an average American tops 3,600 calories.
“We are eating ourselves to death and feeding our kids to death,” she said.
A major change in the food supply chain is at the heart of issue, Adamick said, describing how processors, manufacturers, distributors and marketplaces snuck between the producer and the consumer in the mid-20th century.
A multilayered solution is needed to combat the problem, from operational reform to education to collaboration. Buying locally is a good start, Cooper said.
“Most of our food comes from 1,500 to 1,800 miles away,” she said. “Our food is tired. I fly all the time — it’s tired.”
Doing so requires getting rid of food service management companies, Adamick said, giving the nod to local school kitchens, which are all self-operated. To buy locally, institutions must also find ways to work around legislation that prohibits institutions from demanding only in-state goods.
Changing school kitchens simply in terms of equipment and staff training is also critical. When Cooper started her position in Berkeley, her staff only knew how to use box cutters and can openers.
Cutting out chemicals is another move in the right direction. With antibiotics, hormones, pesticides, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), additives and artificial coloring, food no longer looks like food, Cooper said.
U.S. agriculture uses 1.2 billion pounds of pesticide annually, she said, approximately 5 pounds for every American.
“We can’t keep feeding our kids chemicals,” she said. “…Let’s not believe the government is going to protect us. We have to do it.”
She ran through images of pizza pockets, corn dogs, chicken nuggets and microwaveable burritos. Frozen in plastic, heated in plastic and handed to kids in plastic, she said.
“Why?” she asked, displaying a photo of chicken nuggets shaped like hearts, stars and giraffes. “Why would we allow this stuff to be sold to our kids?”
School meals need to be replaced with farm-fresh food and it needs to be made from scratch, Cooper said. Within 30 months, she had transformed Berkeley’s school kitchens — no longer serving high fructose corn syrup, transfats, processed food, colorings or additives.
“It’s hard work,” she said. “It’s really hard work, but it can be done.”
Education is a key component, Adamick said. Curriculum in schools geared toward changing how kids view their food, to change their relationship toward food, is critical.
With federal testing requirements, it’s tough to make room, Adamick admitted, but she stressed the importance of taking children outdoors, showing them a garden or a farm, and teaching them where food comes from.
And when it comes time to eat, people need to respect the social aspect of a meal, Cooper said.
“Shut off the TVs,” she said. “Sit down with your kids. Eat with your kids.”
Ultimately, it comes down to collaboration. Everybody needs to be on board, Cooper said, including government, universities, nonprofits, farmers, parents, teachers, administrators and kids.
“We all have to care,” she said. “We all have to get involved.”
For more information on the s’Cool Food Initiative, developed by the Orfalea Fund to foster cook-from-scratch school programs throughout Santa Barbara County, visit, which includes ideas for food reform at home, links to related websites, and tips on how to get involved.

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