Friday, August 27, 2010

Local Peaches Mystery Solved

By Ed Bruske
aka The Slow Cook

On Tuesday I contacted D.C. schools wondering why the "local peach" that was supposed to be on my daughter's breakfast tray looked so much like canned peaches instead. I also inquired where parents needed to look to find the ingredients for school menu items, as required by the new "Healthy Schools Act."

Yesterday I received a kind of robo e-mail from the Office of the Chief Operating Officer (Anthony Tata) clearing up the mystery of the canned-versus-local peaches, plus much more that I thought might interest parents. Here is the complete text of that e-mail:

"Good Afternoon, Mr. Bruske:

"Thank you for your email about your student’s peaches, and for bringing your concerns to our attention. Jeff Mills [food services director] followed-up on your concern and visited the school to discover that Stoddert was indeed off-menu. We double-checked with all our schools, and Stoddert was the one school to serve canned peaches that day, which is unacceptable. A formal complaint has been lodged with Chartwells, and we are re-doubling our efforts to ensure that this does not happen again.

"Thank you for being a watchdog for your student’s school. Parents like you keep us, and our vendors, accountable. We want to make sure your blog readers know the process for lodging a menu complaint if they have concerns at any time about the food served at their schools: they should email, which is checked regularly throughout the week. Each email is taken seriously, and we always appreciate when parents and community members bring things to our attention.

"In regard to the nutritional information you asked about, we are still working to upload all the information and working with our vendors to ensure that it is correct. In a few months we will be revamping our entire menu website to be more interactive. We will be sure to let you know when we’re about to launch.

"Thanks, as always, for your inquiries"

I feel a little embarrassed making Jeff Mills go to all that trouble. It's scary to think that a few missing peaches can ruin his whole day and draw him away from all the important work he's doing trying to upgrade the food for the D.C. Public Schools' 45,000 students.

Still, I can only report what I see. And if we're truly concerned about the food kids are eating, the only thing that really matters is what actually ends up on their cafeteria trays.


  1. Ed- your vigilance raises a larger point- there is little to no accountability for these vendors. Schools vend out these services in a significantly hands off manner to save time and money. As far as I know, there isn't a system of accountability for ensuring the big stuff- like the rebates you've reported on earlier. So if that's not in place, seems unlikely anyone is closely monitoring the menus and if, in fact, what's posted is truly being served. Yet another reason to push for in-house production.

  2. Emily (Janney ES Healthy Food Project)August 27, 2010 at 11:17 AM

    Another related point that I recently raised at a DC Farm to School Mtg (because there was a representative from Chartwells there -hooray!): From my observation, the food service workers often have little or no interest in the food they are serving or the children to whom they are serving it. Have they been included in conversations about the Healthy Schools Act? Do know about it? How great it would be to include those workers in the conversation and increase their excitement about food and where it comes from! How about a field trip to local farms and maybe some education about healthy eating! This might inspire them in their jobs and thereby inspire the children they feed! They could also bring that knowledge back to their own homes!