The Slowcook at Spydog Farm The Slowcook at Spydog Farm

Telling Culinary Professionals About the Dark Side of School Food

February 27th, 2011 · 3 Comments · Posted in Blog

When in New York....

No need for me to send wet kisses to Sam Kass over his remarks to the International Association of Culinary Professionals confab in New York City last weekend. That part’s been covered plenty elsewhere.

I was asked to participate on a panel representing those stout souls who concern themselves with food served in schools. This was one of four daylong tracts the IACP offered, the others focusing on communicating about food in a digital age, foods of New York, and urban and rural foodways.

We school foodniks were camped at the French Culinary Institute in SoHo. I was totally impressed to hear about the work Bill Telepan and Wellness in the Schools are doing to change the food service in19 of New Yorks Schools. Brooklyn Grange has turned the roof of a commercial building into and acre-sized produce garden. They needed cranes to hoist huge bags of soil to the roof. Other groups are turning high school campuses into mini-farms complete with chickens and farmers markets. Teacher Steven Katz described how kids in the Bronx are growing thousands of pounds of vegetables inside their classroom using a movable planting wall of their own design.

On the “School Lunch Size Me” panel I spoke last using a slide show to illustrate how food has gone from simply horrible to significantly better in the last year here in the District of Columbia. Yet, because there is no coaching or education directed at the students, the “healthier” food such as vegetables and whole grains are going mostly uneaten. I guess this makes me the Debbie Downer of school food bloggers.

There were plenty of upscale eating opportunities at this event. In fact, the conference asked attendees to sign up for restaurant meals. I chose the budget plan, meaning mostly pizza that I scouted on my own. My hotel room was upstairs from a 24-hour pizza joint called Ray’s. That’s where I got this huge slice of spinach pizza.

No, it’s not on my diet. But at $3.50 a slice, the price was right.

No skimping on the broccoli here

Here’s a slice I got at a joint on MacDougal Street, groaning with broccoli. See, I was good. I went for the vegetables.

The French Culinary Institute is just blocks from Chinatown. That’s where I went for lunch on Saturday and found myself in a terrific Vietnamese restaurant for pho.

Greek salad for breakfast

Saturday morning the wind was howling. I asked a cop for help finding a diner and he directed by to Canal Street. I never found the diner and instead ducked into a deli with a few tables and ordered eggs and sausage, followed by this Greek salad loaded with feta cheese. Apparently, I was craving greens. Maybe my body was trying to compensate for all the pizza crust.

Since I was completely off my diet by this time, I had my sights on a giant onion bagel with lox and cream cheese for Sunday’s breakfast. As it happens, the bus back to D.C. loads in front of a bagel shop near Penn Station. I got there early. Still, there was already a line of people waiting for the bus, freezing their butts off. I skipped the bagel and fell in behind them, me and my copy of the Sunday Times.

I guess that bagel will have to wait for the next trip….

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  • Julia M Usher

    On NPR last week, someone was being interviewed (damn, forgot his name . . . ) about behavior modification experiments he’s doing that show how food placement in cafeteria lines can very much influence what is eaten. So if given the choice between good and evil, if evil is harder to reach (i.e., back of cooler) and/or good stuff is attractively displayed, kids will take the good stuff. Not sure how this is really playing out, but it seemed intuitive enough. Beautiful blog, by the way.

  • Ed Bruske

    That was probably Brian Wansink of Cornell U., who’s done lots of research in this area and received funding from USDA to study it further. But why not just eliminate bad food from school cafeterias?

  • olvus

    Thank you. Necessarily want to go there