Public Comment

Berkeley Public School Lunches

By Beebo Turman 
Thursday January 14, 2010 - 09:29:00 AM

If you care about what your children eat, you will be pleased to hear that Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD) serves terrific lunches to all our students! The food is either freshly made or assembled, locally grown or produced, and as organic as possible. We have three people to thank for this: Marni Posey, Director of Nutrition Services, Bonnie Christensen, Executive Chef at Nutrition Services, and Ann Cooper, who was Director of Nutrition Services for four years. 

It was Ann who made the dramatic changes, starting in 2005, when the Chez Panisse Foundation stepped in and gave BUSD financial support for three years in order to hire Ann. She hired and trained staff, found ways to cook fresh meals, researched and bought produce from new vendors, and bought better milk for our children.  

This work by Ann Cooper was the culmination of planning that a group of parents (including myself) and community members did for eight long years, as part of the Superintendent’s Child Nutrition Advisory Committee, chaired by Eric Weaver. We were not satisfied with the frozen tater tots from Idaho, or the chicken nuggets from Texas, and we worked hard to substitue fresh carrots, Annie’s Organic Lasagne, salads at most schools, and fruit from local farms. Ann was also in charge of planning the new kitchen facility in the Dining Commons at King Middle School, that makes lunches not only for the middle schools but for all the elementary schools as well. (Berkeley High School has its own new facility, the Food Court, which serves many of the 3,000 students there.) As part of the Child Nutrition Advisory Committee I joined a small group that wrote BUSD’s Food Policy in 1999; the others were Tom Bates, Joy Moore, Marcy Greenhut, Eric Weaver, Yolanda Huang, and Jered Lawson. BUSD was the first school district in the country to have a Food Policy ! 

Not only are Director Marni Posey, who has been at BUSD since 2001, and her team of 50 staff members, doing a great job providing the food, but also, for the first time this year, Nutrition Services does not require any help from the general fund—$310,000 was needed in the past from the general fund. Part of the reason for this is that Nutrition Services is selling enough meals to make money at every school. What this means is that the students are liking the food so much that they either pay or sign up for the free and reduced lunch! If you have a student at a public school in Berkeley, ask them what they think of the lunches, because I bet that they have some positive things to say about them. 

Yes, we are all concerned about our children’s health, the growing problem of obesity and the reduction of Children’s Diabetes II. We also care about teaching students where their food comes from, which is why we have gardens in every school, along with cooking classes (aimed at nutrition education)—because we believe “if they grow it, if they cook it, they will eat it!” But it’s also about “the pleasures of the table,” as Alice Waters likes to say. We want children to sit and talk with friends as they take time to eat their lunch, to enjoy the food and the companionship.  



Beebo Turman is Project Director of the Berkeley Community Gardening Collaborative.