Back in July, 2010, I was about two months into writing The Lunch Tray and had been involved in school food reform activities here in Houston for about five months.
Due to the impending passage of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, school food reform was frequently in the national news. In particular, there were many glowing reports about Michelle Obama’s various Let’s Move! school food reform initiatives, including “Chefs Move to Schools,” a campaign to encourage chefs to adopt their local schools for cooking demonstrations and nutrition advice, and a school food recipe contest for kids. Like everyone else, I applauded those efforts.
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?”
As I’ve written about before (most recently in a Houston Chronicle op-ed), here in Houston ISD we have one of the nation’s most advanced central kitchens for the preparation of school food: a state-of-the-art, $51 million facility that takes up 15-acres, with 95,000 square feet devoted to baking, “cook/chill” and cold food preparation, as well as football-field-sized freezer and dry storage areas. (But whether the kitchen’s capabilities are being used to their best advantage is another question entirely.)
So I confess I’d given little thought at the time to the fact that many schools around the country not only lack my district’s extraordinary resources, but literally have no place to do anything more than reheat frozen, processed foods.
I’m remembering all this now because Dana recently sent me a photo from one of San Francisco USD’s largest elementary schools. Take a look at the school’s “kitchen:”
If we ever want schools to prepare healthful, “scratch-cooked” school food, not only will schools need extra funding to buy the fresh, whole raw materials and hire the labor needed to prepare them, but there is also the very real issue of infrastructure. As a retired Air Force General from Mission Readiness mentioned in my interview with him last year:
Since 2009, Congress has appropriated $125 million for equipment upgrades. During that time period, there were more than $600 million in grant requests for this need.
Could there be a better illustration of that unfulfilled need than the picture above?
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