Food Revolution Group Of The Week: SeattleFri 27 May 2011
Story by Hsiao-Ching Chou
In many ways, those of us who live in Seattle are lucky. We have access to wonderful farmers markets as well as grocery stores that offer great local, seasonal produce, meats, seafood and other items. If we seek out these foods, we can find them pretty easily. Still, there’s large segment of our population that doesn’t get regular exposure to this incredible bounty. Food Revolutionaries can help close the gap.
Before the Food Revolution Team created official Facebook groups, Seattle had the unofficial JOFRSEA (Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution-Seattle) group that spent 2010 organizing free cooking classes for kids. The classes were a hit and helped draw attention not only to the Food Revolution but to one of the problems that plagues our schools: the challenge of getting students to choose and eat foods outside of what’s familiar to them.
With this new, officially sanctioned Food Revolution Seattle group, the hope is to provide a central place for community members to discuss issues and share links to pertinent articles. A second, and perhaps more important, role is to serve as a unifying arm for the various organizations in the Seattle area already pursuing their respective missions to inspire change in our schools. There are many great existing programs, but no easy way to learn about those resources and what changes are already taking place.
And, of course, the Food Revolution Seattle group page will offer opportunities such as the May 13 tour of the central kitchen for Seattle Public Schools. The central kitchen is where about 20,000 meals are prepared daily to be delivered to the district’s 88 schools. We learned about some of the complexities that frame how school lunches are made and, most importantly, that families have just as much responsibility in helping to improve the quality of food in our schools.
The central kitchen is about 40,000 square feet in size and has been in operation since October 2002. It was built to help the district better meet federal nutrition, food safety and cost guidelines. It looks like a factory with all the massive assembly-line machinery and 120-gallon kettles. But, with stringent (and stingy) federal guidelines, the central kitchen has become a necessary “evil.” SPS has only about $1 to spend per meal and the district gets reimbursed only for meals that students purchase. What’s even more shocking is that 45 percent of the district’s students qualify for reduced-rate or free lunches. For some kids, school is the only place where they get a proper meal.
The new director of nutrition services is Eric Boutin and he has a proven record for bringing better foods to our students. His team includes Wendy Weyer, assistant director of nutrition services, and Randall Guzzardo, the operations manager. They push to get as much fresh produce into the schools as they can.
Guzzardo used to be a restaurateur and regularly finds ways to tweak the massive recipes to introduce, for example, fresh onions into the chili instead of dehydrated onions. He also transformed the chili recipe into a vegetarian version to avoid bringing commodity ground beef into the central kitchen. If he has to use a commodity item, such as chicken nuggets, then he tries to enhance them with a from-scratch dipping sauce. There are just so many constraints, but the team is doing what it can and strives to do better.
Boutin’s ultimate goal is to make every choice on the menu the right choice. But until then, what would help Boutin and his team is having the community rally around helping to teach families how to cook and eat wholesome, more diverse foods. Because SPS gets reimbursed only for meals that students purchase, if the kids are sent to school knowing how to make the right choices and wanting to eat fruits and vegetables, it would help SPS keep those foods on the menu.
About the author: Hsiao-Ching Chou is the founder of the Seattle Food Revolution community group.
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