by Catarina Rivera
Jamie Oliver has put a spotlight on reforming school food with his reality TV show, “Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution.” His second season finds him attempting to change school lunches in Los Angeles and encountering substantial opposition. At the end of the first episode, he hasn’t even been granted permission to film his show inside the schools.
Last season, he took Huntington, West Virginia by storm and succeeded in making many changes. But L.A. seems like Mt. Everest compared to West Virginia. Changing school food is a bureaucratic, daunting endeavor and requires encounters with the government, USDA, and the food industry. Is it ever possible?
One non-profit in New York City is proving that you can change school food and work within the system. Wellness in the Schools (WITS) operates a program called “Cook for Kids” that partners with the New York City Department of Education’s Office of School Food. The program places trained culinary school graduates as chefs in residence in public school kitchens. They work hand in hand with cafeteria workers to create meals from scratch.
The organization looks for alternative food sources, such as leftover food from restaurants and food sourced from local farms. This program provides a model for changing school food and also utilizes local talent in the process. Other districts could work with culinary schools to place chefs in their schools’ kitchens. However, food sourcing is a difficult process and I wonder how many schools WITS can operate in without stretching their resources.
Individual schools can also serve as examples, such as Chef Bobo of the Calhoun School who has written cookbooks and altered the palates of the kids he works with. One example from the charter school sector is Harlem Children’s Zone’s Promise Academy, which offers freshly made lunches and bans unhealthy snacks. They also organize a farmer’s market and offer healthy cooking classes.
While changing school food is a daunting and complicated process, leading organizations and schools offer hope. If these programs expand and others copy their lead, reform can occur from the ground up. Creative solutions and passionate individuals can always drive change.
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of the author and should not be understood to be shared by Being Latino, Inc.