By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
"It's not OK."
LAUSD says it is all about transparency. That is true in some respects, false in others. Nutritional content for each menu item, for instance, can be found on the district's website. But sugar isn't listed. Neither is sodium. No information on either is readily available to the public.
Also, the district canceled the Cafeteria Improvement Committee meetings in recent months, taking away the public's one regular, guaranteed opportunity to be heard. The district's explanation? It plans to institute an ad hoc advisory group less encumbered by formal procedure. These will be better for stimulating dialogue, the district says.
"You get half of an answer that stops you for a while," says Carmen Joseph. "It's like you're drinking the Kool-Aid. Dennis Barrett did that to me once. I was, like, 'Oh, some of the kids aren't even getting their lunch? Well, that's terrible.' That's Dennis' technique. Feel sorry for us. And it's a good technique. It does work."
In the Riverside Unified School District, east of Los Angeles, Nutrition Services Director Rodney Taylor takes students to the school garden to pick lettuce. "Then they go into the cafeteria and say, 'You see that lettuce? I grew that,' " Cook recalls Taylor telling her. "He said, it doesn't matter what time of the year it is, they'll say that's my lettuce. Even if their lettuce is long gone. You create ownership, you create desire."
Taylor's district has 250 schools. All have salad bars.
How did you get a salad bar in every school, Cook asked?
"One school at a time," Taylor told her.
At LAUSD dependent charter Canyon Elementary School, Carmen Joseph works with second graders in the school garden. She says she has seen kids eat stuff that would shock their parents. They made black bean corn salad with kale, and pumpkin cornmeal muffins with pumpkins from the pumpkin patch.
But LAUSD does not allow them to serve the vegetables or fruits grown in the garden in the cafeteria because it would compete with participation in the lunch program.
At Los Angeles High, Jose Anaya isn't scoring illegal muffins from his Spanish teacher anymore. Teacher Salvador is no longer dealing. A student chucked a pear at her from the third floor while she was standing in the courtyard during lunch. The fruit hit her in the head and sent her to the hospital with concussion. No one knows who the culprit was, or if it was a piece of fruit the teacher herself sold.
After long deliberation and pressure from activists, Superintendent Deasy recommended that Los Angeles Unified's Board of Education stop serving the high-sugar chocolate and strawberry milk, effective fall 2011. Deasy made the announcement with a grinning Jamie Oliver on late-night TV show Jimmy Kimmel Live. The board voted 5-2 Tuesday to stop serving chocolate or strawberry flavored milk with added sugar.
There's also a new menu. It's the first one Binkle, Barrett and chef Mark Baida have had under their complete control, they say, without having to honor past contracts, which are sunsetting this year. The new menu, to debut in the fall, is undergoing taste-testing at the moment. Items are still in flux. Thus far, "potato smiles" and Tater Tots are returning. Chicken nuggets are not.
Instead of processed reconstituted meat, there will be whole chicken breast served with dark green veggies and brown rice. Kids can expect to eat chef Baida's Vietnamese bánh mì. Quinoa and Israeli couscous and lentils are on the agenda, too.
And yes, even hummus.