Food Revolution Pittsburgh Cooking Club: Fancy WaterMon 17 Mar 2014
Story by Bobby Fry
The problem: Pittsburgh Public Schools, despite the overall population growth and resurgence of commerce in Pittsburgh, are not well. Grade scores and graduation rates are amongst the worst in the country. In fact, the state of Pennsylvania has just announced they will be auditing Pittsburgh Public Schools.
When the Food Revolution PGH Cooking Club students asked me to dine with them during school lunch, what I saw was both frustrating and encouraging. The frustrating parts are the obvious characteristics of school lunch that are universally unsatisfactory in the U.S.: packaged/reheated foods, lack of dining culture, prison-like cafeteria aesthetics, and an overwhelming freedom of the students to purchase name-brand snacks and junk foods. Additionally, students were only offered milk and sugar drinks with the nearest source of water being a fountain 40 yards down the hallway.
However, like starting a small business or restaurant, encouragement was found in the fact that not only were the public school officials and workers passionate about improvements (though they had no idea where to begin), I saw an overwhelming list of changes that could be made for very little cost.
My first thought: hydration. I quickly pulled the others on the Food Revolution Cooking Club team and school administrators aside and suggested we create Fancy Water stations. For a one-time $40 investment per school in clear water tanks and the cost of a few pieces of fruit per day, we could make water accessible and attractive. We could provide hydration to young bodies and minds to aid in digestion of lackluster fare, and we could start to build a dining culture through the encouragement found in noticing that someone took the time and care to cut fruit and add it to the youths’ water.
It might sound silly, but the water service at Bar Marco is the best in the city. Servers do not ask if you want water; they greet you by pouring room temperature water in your polished glass tableside when you arrive. They do not ask if you’d like a refill, they keep their eyes peeled as guests dine.
I’ve been reluctant to mention Bar Marco outside of our social media followers in matters concerning Food Revolution Pittsburgh for the last year because this is supposed to be about the kids, not a marketing plug. But as we gain national recognition, including earning Bon Appetite’s Top 50 Best New Restaurants in the USA ranking, I’ve come to realize that it’s important that we encourage other restaurants to get involved in reforming school nutrition and dining culture.
In the fall semester of 2013, we ventured to 14 Pittsburgh Public Schools and installed Fancy Water stations and taught cafeteria workers the importance of hydration as well as proper fruit cutting techniques. The most common response by the kids: “Is this free!?”
About the Author: Bobby Fry is the co-owner of Bar Marco and The Livermore in Pittsburgh, PA. He and the Food Revolution Pittsburgh Cooking Club team believe that local restaurants should encourage a strong dining culture for young people by empowering them with cooking skills, tools, and knowledge. Every Tuesday, Bobby brings a different local "celebrity" chef to the after school Food Revolution Pittsburgh Cooking Club at the Barack Obama Academy High School in East Liberty, Pittsburgh.
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