Changing eating habits for the better is key to turning the tide towards better lifelong health, especially when 1 out of 3 children in this country is overweight or obese, and improving the school lunch students eat every day could go a long way toward that goal.
“It starts with a vision,” says Edward Docalovich, principal of Broughal Middle School , Cafeteria Man, Wednesday evening. “There's still a lot more to be done.”
“It's all about education, but also about availability. You go to the corner store, and it's all Tastycakes and McDonalds,” said Richard Chisholm, co-director of the film, which chronicles efforts in the Baltimore school district to replace the 83,000 meals served daily with fresh, well-prepared, appealing food.
But getting the processed and pre-packaged fare out of the equation when there's a need to feed thousands of kids in the span of a few hours, with an embedded mass food production system in place is no easy task.
For it's part, Sodexo, the district's food supplier, has added healthier cafeteria options at the district's request, recently adding a made-to-order salad bar option and whole grain pizzas at the middle and high schools, and working with the school to add a fresh fruit and vegetable program that introduces students to an array of produce throughout the year through a grant program.
“It's hard to get qualified chefs—with these reality shows, everyone wants to be the next Emeril,” said Sodexo's Robert Irving.
Still, the company is trying new things, like sending chefs to other facilities to be a 'guest chef' for a week, and it hopes soon to be adding more locally produced food to it's options for the institutions it serves, he said.
“The food industry needs to change,” said Irving.
However, it may take time for that to happen, especially considering the scale of the food production corporations and their policies have been in place.
“It's going to take years (for the system to change). It took 30 years after World War II to ruin the system, and it's going to take some years to reverse it,” Chisholm said, though he added market pressure has begun to have some effect.
Getting the major food producers and distributors to change how they do business is key to sustainable change, Chisholm said.
“I think we have to be honest, school gardens are symbolic,” Chisholm said. “You're not going to feed (thousands) of students on a school garden.”
Still, symbolic change can also sow the seeds of real change, in both how students eat and how they learn.
“It's not that they won't eat it, it's that it's not available some of the time,” said Meagan Grega, an MD and co-founder of the Kellyn Foundation, which hosted the screening and after-film discussion.
She added that learning to work with simple, in-season ingredients is a key component of getting people to eat healthier, especially since they make healthy eating affordable for everyone.
Brown rice, cooked with in-season vegetables rivals or even beats the price of a McDonalds meal, she said, adding that cooking workshops the foundation has conducted with local schools, including Broughal, have been immensely popular.
“Our major draw is the healthy eating cooking club,” Docalovich said of the school's after school program. “The garden club too.”
He added he hopes to get the garden club involved with the SteelStacks Farmer's Market to give students the opportunity to try out their entrepreneurial skills too.
“These little things we try to do to make awareness,” he said. “That's one of the things I envision, taking the food from the green house to the cafeteria.”
“I see change happening, and it's not coming from government. It's coming from chefs, and from consumers, demanding better food. It's trickling down to all aspects of society and it's trickling up to the corporations,” local organic farmer Jeffrey Frank said. “There are distribution companies springing up looking to distribute from small local farms. Right now, it's really rough, but one of these days, they're going to crack it.”