Do you remember that plaintive post I wrote last month, in which I shamelessly begged a “school food visionary” to come to Houston ISD? My district had just ended its 20-year relationship with Aramark, and in the post I set forth all the reasons why I believe Houston ISD could be a true national model for healthy school food – but only under the right leadership.
Just to explain what I meant by a “visionary,” I named three legendary school food directors in the post: “Ann Cooper of the Boulder Valley School District, Bertrand Weber of Minneapolis Public Schools and Betti Wiggins of Detroit Public Schools – all committed, caring school food professionals who’ve radically transformed their district’s meals for the better.”
When I wrote those words, I was just tossing out examples; in my wildest dreams, I never thought we’d actually get one of those people. But just minutes ago, HISD officially announced that Betti Wiggins is coming to Houston ISD!
[cue band, dance happy dance]
For those of you who don’t understand my jubilation, just read this recent Civil Eats piece, “How One Visionary Changed School Food in Detroit.” You’ll learn how Wiggins is credited with transforming the meals in Detroit Public Schools, which she accomplished by ditching the carnival food, increasing daily servings of produce, introducing students to new raw vegetables on a weekly basis, increasing local food purchasing and even starting robust gardening and farm-to-school programs.
“Cafeterias should be viewed as an extension of the classroom,” she says in the Civil Eats piece, “We don’t do home economics anymore. That is where we are doing real nutrition education—on their plates.” Music to my ears.
Wiggins has also worked in the private sector, as well as in schools in Washington D.C., Baltimore, Atlanta, Paterson, New Jersey, and Ann Arbor, Michigan. You can read more about her background and extensive experience here.
Change can’t happen overnight, of course, and that’s especially true in a district as large as HISD (300 schools versus Detroit’s 141 schools). There’s no doubt that Wiggins will face some big challenges in the days and months ahead. But I feel certain the Houston ISD Nutrition Services Parent Advisory Committee will welcome her with open arms, and I know there are many others in this city who stand ready to support her efforts at every turn.
Oh, and Betti? You know those awesome Houston margaritas I mentioned in my post? If I get the chance to meet you, the first round’s on me. 🙂
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