See Jane Do: Extraordinary Jane Chef Ann Cooper
Special to the Sunday Express
Renegade school lunch lady, Chef Ann Cooper is an everyday woman living in Boulder, Colo.
The onetime high-end restaurant chef is on a mission to ensure that every child in America has access to healthy food at school. Having established a revolutionary school lunch program in Berkeley, with the vision and support of Alice Waters, Chef Ann is now serving healthy, nutritious school lunches to 30,000 children a day in Boulder. She is moving forward to change policies at a national level.
See Jane Do first met Chef Ann at Martin Luther King Middle School in Oakland, where she was preparing 2,000 pounds of vegetables, serving fresh tamales and stocking the salad bar for lunch.
Q. Since we last spoke. where has your journey taken you in creating healthier school lunches?
A. I’m now the director of nutrition services at the Boulder School District where we have almost 50 schools, 30,000 students and 175 employees. I also founded the Food Family Farming Foundation and its premiere project is The Lunch Box.
The Lunch Box is a resource for parents, educators, administrators, advocates and anyone who wants to change school food. It’s going to have menus, recipes, resources, videos and all kinds of educational tools.
Q. Tell us about your school lunch campaign.
A. I’m trying to get a million moms, dads and caregivers to write to their elected officials and the USDA Secretary of Agriculture to say we want one more dollar. One more dollar equals a healthy school lunch. It’s a campaign to support healthy school lunches all across the country. Tell them that we care about what we’re feeding our kids.
Q. How much do we spend right now on school lunches?
A. We spend $2.68 per child and of that two-thirds goes to payroll and overhead. So that’s less than 90 cents for food and we just can’t feed kids healthy food for 90 cents.
Q. What kind of food is fed to children at schools for 90 cents?
A. The food most commonly served in schools are chicken nuggets and tater tots. Of course, there are also things like corn dogs, “Extremo Burritos” and Pizza pockets. It’s basically highly processed food.
Q. The National School Lunch Program claims that they serve balanced meals. How do
you challenge that?
A. Even the USDA knows that their food is not as healthy as it could be and the guidelines are very outdated. One of the things we’re asking for, besides $1 per student per day, is for the USDA to adopt the Institute of Medicine Guidelines, which would make the food much healthier.
Given the obesity crisis and the First Lady’s “Let’s Move” campaign, I don’t think anyone believes that the school lunches are as good as they can be. We can do better for our children.
Q. What kind of impact would an extra dollar per school meal create for children in the United States?
A. Potentially it could save their lives. It’s that big of deal. If we add another dollar dedicated to fresh vegetables, fresh fruits, whole grains, with a priority on regional procurement and pass and implement an Institute of Medical guidelines, I think we can reverse the obesity crisis, and we can save the health of our children and save their lives.
Q. How does this stand up in the economic crisis?
A. We’re talking about the lives and health of our children. Science and trigonometry isn’t going to help them if they have diabetes by the time they are 18. We can’t keep our heads in the sand. We have to understand how important this issue is and that when we educate children, it’s the whole child.
Q. What is your message to women around the world?
A. Everyone needs to know that they can make a difference. Real power change happens one person at a time. If we all do just one thing we’re going to change the world, and the one thing we can do right now is help feed our kids healthier foods for the rest of their lives.
See Jane Do is a multimedia program capturing the stories of everyday women doing extraordinary things for the planet. Catch the one-hour talk radio program on KVMR 89.5FM the first Wednesday of every month from 1-2 p.m. For more information, visit http://www.seejanedo.com.
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