School Lunch Reform- a Conversation and a Play Spark Calls to Action

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In March, two separate instances involving school lunches pulled me in. One took place in Santa Barbara and the other occurred in downtown Los Angeles. As a non-parent, I found myself intrigued by this issue. The belief that the school lunch needs to be reformed seems to have only gained traction after efforts by “renegade lunch lady” Ann Cooper and then chef Jamie Oliver brought them to the forefront using the popular visual medium of TV. All of a sudden an issue distant to those of us who are not parents, could easily be broadcast into living rooms across the U.S. I watched one season of the television show, back when we owned a TV, watching the personal narrative of the community consider another course.

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At Edible Institute in Santa Barbara, a panel moderated by local San Francisco food writer, Molly Watson met to discuss school lunch. Also on the panel were Cecily Upton of Foodcorps, a non-profit that “connects kids to real food and helps them to grow up healthy,” as well as Barton Seaver, the healthy and sustainable food program director for Harvard University’s School of Public Health. What I most appreciated from the discussion was a sense of looking for solutions and not condemning the workers themselves.

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Upton shared a story of a high school teacher who offered to volunteer in the kitchen, putting himself into the throes of helping the change come about through involvement, cook training and working as a team for the good of the children eating the prepared meals. For a thorough run of the panels and engagement during the Edible Institute weekend, check out this article by Kurt Friese on the Huffington Post that captures the highlights.

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Over in Los Angeles, Cornerstone Theater’s approach to addressing cultural issues through community theater is one that caught our attention. Through a serendipitous course of events, I happened to be in L.A. on preview weekend of their most recent production of “Lunch Lady Courage,” a spirited play based on stories gleaned from select students, lunch workers and teachers in the L.A. school district. Blending their stories and letting them find the fit with a Bertolt Brecht play gave the play a social justice bent. Some students (and one school lunch worker!) whose stories had made it into the play also were pulled in as actors.

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Along with the lunch lady whose mission is to serve healthy food to unwilling students, the audience meets students in “Lunch Lady Courage”. This includes a teacher fundraising for the school by providing junk food for the kids to sell, a student who helps offset family expenses by selling his mom’s homemade tortas at lunch and a high school senior who laments what will happen to the school farm when she graduates. The panoply of characters began to reveal how complex the issues are in trying to bring about change and the question of how to make a healthy change appealing in a sea of unhealthy options. “Lunch Lady Courage” rankled me. Months later, I’m still thinking about these characters’ stories, wondering how they resolved.

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The power of a good conversation and good art is that they force a person not only to think, but think about how they can get involved. As a company, we are passionate about trying to democratize real food, and especially are trying to change the perception that cereal isn’t healthy because we think that if you use good, quality ingredients and don’t mess with them too much, you don’t have to spray vitamins onto the food to make them nutritionally viable. As you read this article, how are you giving your real food passion wings?

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