Sunday, June 13, 2010

Is There a Plan for D.C. School Food?

Ed Bruske
aka The Slow Cook

D.C. schools currently serve kids some of the worst processed convenience foods the industry has to offer, grotesquely out of step with the enthusiastic rhetoric generated around Michelle Obama's "Let's Move" campaign. And while they claim to be making improvements, school officials under Chancellor Michelle Rhee seem uwilling of incapable or articulating a vision for replacing the daily regime of frozen and packaged junk provided by its paid food serviced contractor--Chartwells--with real food.

This week I saw a very different approach when I spent time in a "culinary boot camp" outside Denver, CO. There, more than 30 cooks and food service directors from schools around the state immersed themselves in an intensive, four-day session to learn how to better manage their finances and operate kitchens that can create wholesome meals from scratch.

The "boot camp" is one step in a process of improving school food that also involves a professional assessment of food service operations to identify ways of freeing up cash, making kitchen operations more efficient, and serving healthier food. A state wellness organization responsible for organizing the boot camps--LiveWell Colorado--hopes that these initial training sessions are just the beginning of a process that could eventually transform food service in schools across the state, eliminating processed convenience foods from school cafeterias.

D.C. Schools have a new food service director, Jeffrey Mills, who previously had no experience at all in school food. His entire career has focused on developing restaurant concepts, most notably in New York City. Wouldn't it make sense for the District of Columbia, rather than asking Mr. Mills to re-invent the wheel, to emulate a progressive state such as Colorado and order a professional assessment of its food service operations?

Michelle Rhee said it was necessary to hire a professional food service company like Chartwells to get a grip on the $10 million deficits D.C. schools were running annually in its food services. Now we know that Chartwells is really about collecting millions of dollars in fees, money that could be going to improve the food kids are eating.

The good news is that there are professionals in school food service who are passionate about serving children wholesome meals made with fresh ingredients and who know how to manage finances and operations to make that kind of meal service a reality. Isn't it time for D.C. schools to get real and make like Colorado?

1 comment:

  1. Challenge to Michelle Rhee: look at the whole child when trying to improve test scores. Food is such a basic right, it is atrocious what is being served in our schools. How can you expect children to learn and teachers to control classrooms when the students are going on and off sugar highs all day long?? Let's be a leader nationwide and totally revamp DC's school lunch program.