Committed to Better School Food: Epilogue
April 1st, 2010 · 1 Comment · Posted in kids, school food
The food program at Washington Jesuit Academy I described over the last three days not only outlined the great lengths some schools are going to to incorporate fresh, local ingredients in their meals, but also the inspiring story of D.C. Central Kitchen’s efforts to use its culinary program to change the lives of people desperate for a second chance.
Robert Egger, founder of D.C. Central Kitchen and still its guiding light, said it was noteworthy that the Jesuit Academy had embraced the idea of having mostly convicted felons working in their kitchen every day and fraternizing with the students. The school’s headmaster, Joseph Powers, described the kitchen crew as “part of the WJA family.” From what I saw, a strong bond has developed between the cooks and the students. Some teachers described the kitchen workers as “role models” for the boys who attend the academy and take three meals a day there.
Some readers were alarmed by a comment made by kitchen manager Duane Drake that he worked there “for not a lot of money.” In fact, unlike their counterparts in public school kitchens, the cooks who graduate through D.C. Central Kitchen’s culinary program are fairly well compensated and enjoy a package of benefits. In a comment left at the La Vida Locavore blog, where my series also was published, Willian Neuheisel, communications manager for D.C. Central Kitchen, put it this way:
“The men and women who prepare and serve these meals are graduates of the DC Central Kitchen’s Culinary Job Training Program and are employees of DC Central Kitchen. We are very proud to say that each of these employees begins their employment at the District’s living wage, currently, $12.75.
“In addition, each of them receives a benefit package that includes 100% paid health insurance, short term and long tern disability insurance and a life insurance policy for free, two weeks paid vacation, plus 8 paid personal or sick days and 50 cents on a dollar matching contribution to a retirement plan.
“Ultimately what we have shown at WJA is that if the circumstances are right and the commitment is there, school food can be predominantly sourced locally; those preparing these healthy meals can be paid a fair wage with benefits; the students will indeed eat healthier, non-processed foods; and this will have direct results on academic performance and behavior.”
My own impression of the progam at Washington Jesuit Academy was of a resounding success, even though some students groused about the vegetables and the prevalence of soup on the menu. I only wish that more freshly made soups and stews were served in public schools, where the kids get a steady diet of processed convenience foods. I was also impressed to see that Fresh Start Catering, the for-profit arm of D.C. Central Kitchen that runs the program at WJA, sees no need to serve flavored milk or other products with added sugar. Kids in public schools are doused with sugar every day.
Something else that impressed me: the number of students who had books and newspapers open–studying–in the mess hall.
One problem I did experience at the school was very dim light in the kitchen and the dining hall. After my initial reporting, I returned to the school to take better photographs. I present some of them here.