My district held a luncheon yesterday to introduce Betti Wiggins, our new head of Nutrition Services, to various members of the Houston community.
I was honored to be invited, along with representatives from Urban Harvest, Brighter Bites, the University of Texas School of Public Health, the Life Time Foundation (proponents of “clean label” school food), the Southwest regional office of the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service, local schools, our school board, and my district’s Parent Advisory Committee to Nutrition Services.
This isn’t the first time I’ve sat in a room like this, where community stakeholders were brought together to talk about improving Houston’s school food. But those prior events felt a lot like window-dressing for Aramark, the food service management company that used to run our school food department, and I never left those meetings feeling particularly optimistic.
But, people – OMG! The mood in the room yesterday couldn’t have been more different. You could practically feel the positive energy ricocheting off the walls, and the Nutrition Services staff members in attendance seemed not just happier generally, but actually brimming with excitement about the future of the department.
The source of all that optimism and good cheer was, of course, Miss Betti herself.
I don’t want to heap a lot of unrealistic expectations on one person, especially in a huge district like ours where change can be a slow and frustrating process. But in the first five minutes of meeting Betti, she shared with me some of her plans and I practically wanted to cry.
It wasn’t just that I wholeheartedly support her definition of “good school food,” which takes into account not only taste, healthfulness and local sourcing, but also issues of equity and access. It was because I could also hear the absolute conviction and confidence in her voice: no matter the obstacles, Miss Betti is going to get things done.
I won’t share any specific plans here; the department can make those announcements at the appropriate time. But there’s a reason why my former PAC colleagues texted me immediately after the lunch to share their excitement. One of them said she was going to be “smiling all afternoon” and I felt exactly the same way.
I can’t sign off on this recap without thanking David Husbands, the department’s Executive Chef, for preparing such a beautiful lunch for us. While it wasn’t intended to comply with school meal regulations, it was healthy, colorful, delicious and locally-sourced where possible:
Before we ate, Chef Husbands explained how the meal reflected his longstanding desire to bring these same qualities to the food served to Houston’s school kids.
With Miss Betti at the helm, I think he’s finally going to get his chance.
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