Local schools, local food
Advocacy group pushing Chico school district to serve more-healthful food in cafeterias
By Christine G.K. LaPado, NewsReview.com
Debra Abbott works as an after-school gardening teacher at McManus, Parkview, Rosedale and Citrus elementary schools. Her job is funded by a special grant for low-performing and high-poverty schools. She recently helped some of her students pick lettuce, chard, spinach and carrots from their school garden, showed them how to wash the vegetables, and then helped them prepare fresh lemon vinaigrette to put on the salad she guided them to create.
“All of the kids loved it,” said Abbott of the, garden-to-classroom food. “They said they’d rather eat that than the ‘little fruit pellets’ they [were given at school] for a snack and didn’t eat. These kids want this [fresh] food.”
Abbott describes a “huge disconnect” between what she is teaching children in her gardening program and “the processed food in the cafeteria” that they are eating for breakfast, lunch and snacks. She cited the packaged, sugary cereals and high-fat breakfast entrees such as “sausage on a stick” and “sausage on a biscuit,” and “pizza every day of the week,” as prime examples of school foods that should be reduced or eliminated.
“They could serve Cheerios, Special K or Rice Krispies instead of all those sweet cereals,” said Abbott, “but they’re probably being subsidized by the sweet-cereal industry.”
Abbott is a member of a new organization called Advocates for Healthy School Communities. The group held its second “Change School Lunch” meeting on Jan. 8 at the OPT (Overweight Prevention and Treatment) for Fit Kids office on Mangrove Avenue. The group, which thus far totals nine members, is made up largely of parents, local food educators and school garden teachers—including Maria Venturino, co-owner of the Red Tavern restaurant and parent of two Chico schoolchildren.
Other members include sustainability activist and KZFR programmer Laurie Niles; Kristen Del Real, substitute teacher and school garden coordinator at Hooker Oak Elementary School and mother of two children who attend the school; and Jeremy Miller, president of Chico Food Network, a nonprofit that is working to “foster a local food system that contributes to the long-term viability of farms in our region” and “provide education regarding local food systems,” among other aims.
They are attempting to get the Chico Unified School District to improve the quality of cafeteria food, as well as make progressive, healthful changes to the district’s current wellness policy, which is in the final-draft stage.
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