By Margaret Hancock
As a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, I could not be more proud to be putting my degree towards helping to better feed and better educate children about food.
While a culinary student, I heard several lectures about Chef Ann’s work in Berkeley schools and I knew that somehow I was going to get involved. Nearing graduation, I yearned to return to my college town of Boulder and, as fate would have it, Ann was in the process of starting up a new program in the schools there. It has taken two years and lots of persistence to finally get my clogs in the door and I have never been happier than I am working as a production cook at Boulder’s Monarch High School.
School cafeterias were a disgrace when I was a kid and to see them become even worse through the proliferation of fast food is simply wrong. Jamie Oliver has referred to America’s cafeterias as child abuse and sadly he’s right. You rarely see teachers enjoying their lunch in your child’s cafeteria and that’s because they wouldn’t dare put what is being served in their bodies. So why should kids? This has to be changed one school at a time. What we are doing in Boulder is demolishing the stigma of the school cafeteria.
The fact is, schools need educated and skilled individuals to help them towards change and I am pleased to be one of them. One criticism I continually hear is that schools shouldn’t tell children how to eat. In my opinion, there are children who aren’t learning about proper food choices at home and school is the one place they get a healthy meal. A child cannot begin to comprehend math and English without a proper breakfast and lunch to get their minds going. Children in Boulder are exposed to seasonal, fresh, and organic ingredients, and while this is incredible it needs to be happening everywhere. There is no better place to start addressing America’s weight-related health problems that with our youth.
Every child should have the opportunity to learn where her food comes from and how to make proper food choices. Serving kids organic food is useless if they don’t have an idea what the term organic means. Food knowledge is essential and needs to be fostered in the classroom as well as in the lunchroom. Just as every school should have a playground, it should also have a garden to teach kids the origins of their food. If kids are taught these things at the school level, we can begin to combat childhood obesity and all the adverse health effects that come with this disease.
The menu changes that have happened in Boulder are huge, but I would love to see things taken even further. For me, Ann Cooper’s school food project in Boulder is an incredibly rewarding experience and brings a smile to my face every day. I hope to gain as much knowledge as I can from the Boulder food project and someday move on to help another district in need of change.
Margaret Hancock is a production cook at Monarch High School in Boulder, Colorado.