June 9, 2009

Baltimore, Philly Pioneering School Food Initiatives

Center for a Livable Future

Center for a Livable Future

“This is not rocket science. You put some seed in the ground. Water. Add sun. Plant grows. Eat food.”

The quote above is from Tony Geraci, the charismatic new director of food and nutrition for Baltimore schools, in a City Paper article from last week which does a pretty good job summing up his no-nonsense philosophy on improving the food the city feeds its school kids.

Geraci is part of a growing movement to revamp school food by teaching kids to appreciate where their meals come from by growing and cooking themselves. He wants to put cafeteria stovetops back to work actually cooking meals from scratch and not reheating frozen packages. Geraci has his work cut out for him: he promised to make all Baltimore City school food locally grown and freshly prepared. Beyond that, he wants to create a model that can be used in cities across the country.

Baltimore is leading the way in the movement, and a school near Patterson Park is one of the first to employ a teacher who teaches nutrition and cooking lessons to students as part of its Food for Life program. Read the linked article above for the full scoop, including quotes from CLF’s own Anne Palmer, and check out City Paper’s accompanying video.

Another city about 100 miles up the road is also making news in the school food world. News broke last month that the USDA wanted to ax Philadelphia’s Universal Feeding Program. The program allows 120,000 children in lower-income areas to received free meals without filling out paperwork. USDA contended that it was not fair that Philadelphia was the only city that allowed such a program without requiring families to enroll in the program. Advocates of the program were furious, and argued that the paperwork hinders the number of children who desperately need these meals. On Saturday, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack had reversed plans to end the program under pressure from city and state lawmakers, and postponed any decision on the program until Congress considers an update and reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act later this year.

In the meantime, Pennsylvania legislators will seek to pass legislation to protect the program, and Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) said he will introduce a bill to expand the Universal Feeding Program nationally.

To copy Geraci’s words-this too is not rocket science. When it comes to something as important as feeding our kids, why are there so many hoops to jump through, making it more difficult to do the job well? And why would the USDA seek to make it harder for kids in low-income areas to get a  meal (ok, maybe not the nutritionally ideal meal, but a meal nonetheless)? If one city has a successful program-the next step should be getting it implemented in other areas, not taking it away because its not fair that everyone doesn’t have it. Hopefully the wind will blow this school food movement in Baltimore and Philly a little further south to D.C. in time for the revamping of the Child Nutrition Act.

– Patti Truant

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