First lady to chefs: "It's got to be a collaboration"
More than 500 chefs gathered at the White House today to join Michelle Obama's newest effort to fight childhood obesity, Chefs Move To Schools.
The chefs, including national stars such as Rachael Ray, Tom Colicchio and Cat Cora, and an army of unknowns who work in restaurants, food banks and culinary schools, hailed from 37 states. Each has accepted a White House mission to adopt a school in his or her community and work with parents, teachers and cafeteria workers to educate children about food and nutrition. That might include developing healthful recipes for cafeterias, offering cooking lessons or helping a school to plant a garden.
"You are all at the heart of this initiative because if anyone understands nutrition and food, it's the folks sitting here in their whites today," Obama said, referring to the traditional chef uniform. "You know more about food than almost anyone – other than the grandmas – and you've got the visibility and the enthusiasm to match that knowledge."
So far, nearly 1,000 chefs have signed on to the program, which was spearheaded by White House Assistant Chef Sam Kass. Obama said she hoped to inspire thousands more to get involved, one for each of the 95,000 U.S. schools.
But while she hopes to spark a grass-roots revolution, Obama was careful to caution the chefs that change would require patience. "Just like you wouldn't be thrilled if someone came in your restaurant and told you what to do, we're not asking you guys to go into schools and take over," she told the chefs, who were sweltering under a hot sun on the lawn. Cafeteria workers are "going to need your support. But it's got to be a collaboration."
Chefs heard similar warnings at a two-hour morning session organized by anti-hunger organization Share Our Strength. A series of speakers, from Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and New York Public Schools Executive Chef Jorge Collazo to school lunch scholar Janet Poppendieck, spelled out the challenges in reforming the system.
For example, it might seem like a good idea to ask teachers to eat with their students, said Poppendieck. But many teacher union contracts specifically mandate that teachers get a break during lunch. Custodians, she noted, are paid by a separate department, so chefs might make enemies by bringing kids into a kitchen and making a mess.
"You'd never think of implementing a salad bar as guerrilla warfare. But that's what it is. Kid by kid. School by school," said Collazo.
Added Tony Geraci, the director of food service at the Baltimore City Public Schools and a former chef: "The world of restaurants and the world of K-12 food are different planets. Chefs who come to school food are going to have a hard learning curve."
Chefs said they were undeterred by the hard work ahead. A team of Washington chefs has already begun working in city schools. The White House event included a who's who of the city's best-known tocques.: Will Artley of Evening Star Café, Kyle Bailey and Tiffany MacIsaac of Birch & Barley, R.J. Cooper of Vidalia and Peter Smith of PS 7's, among others.
"Just show me which school needs me," said Artley. "I'm ready to go."
-- Jane Black
June 4, 2010; 4:15 PM ET
Categories: Food Politics | Tags: Childhood obesity, Jane Black, Michelle Obama, nutrition, school lunch
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