A Mother and School Food Advocate Tells It Like It Is

by Bettina Elias Siegel on September 29, 2010

As we approach tomorrow’s deadline for the reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act, CNN/Eatocracy has this interview with Dana Woldow, a parent and school food advocate in San Francisco.

I love Woldow’s clear-eyed assessment of the problems schools face in improving food.  For example, although she applauds the attention that Michelle Obama’s Chefs Move to Schools program has brought to school food, she’s a realist, too:

A lot of the programs the USDA sponsors are based around the idea that every school cafeteria has a kitchen. Well, here in San Francisco, like a lot of school districts in this country, we don’t. We haven’t cooked in our elementary schools in more than 25 years. You can talk all you like about chefs moving to schools and sharing their expertise and that would be great, but we don’t have any place for those chefs to cook. And you can have kids developing recipes from scratch with dark green leafy vegetables and that’s wonderful, but where are these recipes going to be cooked if there is no kitchen?

On the other hand, she does have good news to share from her own district.  After finding out that her cafeteria was operating at a loss, despite heavy sales of soda and junk food, she advocated for a pilot program at one middle school:

It eliminated the junk food from the a la cart program and removed it from the vending machines.  Instead they sold freshly made deli sandwiches, salads, soup and even sushi. ‘Three months after we started our pilot project, the cafeteria was breaking even. Six months into it, our cafeteria was one of two in the school district that turned a profit. So much for the idea that you will lose money if you stop selling junk food in your cafeteria,’ Woldow said.

The next year they expanded the program to every middle and high school. Based on the program’s success, the school board passed a resolution to remove junk food by the start of the 2003-2004 school year.

The entire article is well worth reading, and I’m going to see if I can track down Woldow for a guest blog post on TLT. I’d also like to get more financial data on the San Francisco district to see if these changes could be affordably replicated in my own.

Thanks, Anthony, for sending me the link!

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Dr. Susan Rubin September 29, 2010 at 10:21 am

Dana has been hard at work on this issue for many many years. Here’s a little feature we did on her last year:
http://www.betterschoolfood.com/a-student-explains-why-we-need-better-food-for-schools/

Just a reminder for all the Lunch Tray readers, this problem has been around for a long time and requires hard work and dedication to shift the paradigm. Expect to devote at least a decade working on this. Your kids and your future grandchildren are worth every minute and someday, they’ll thank you for taking a stand.

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bettina elias siegel September 29, 2010 at 12:46 pm

Susan: You are always the voice of reason, even if it is depressing. :-) You’re right, of course, but I think a lot of us are in for the long fight, or at least will be replaced by an ever-growing army of concerned parents. – Bettina

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