Cook for America?

Cook for America?

Over at Grist, Tom Philpott has a fascinating proposal for how to use the stimulus money to stimulate the local food movement. Among his proposals:

  • reinvest in local food infrastructures: slaughterhouses, meat lockers, and school kitchens
  • cook real food in schools again — he proposes a Cook for America program for culinary school grads mired in debt. Based on the Teach for America program, it would get real food, cooked on site, back into our schools.

The comments are also worth reading because Grist’s readers have some terrific ideas. I know that I would not be able to eat as much local meat as I do in most other parts of the country where there are no local slaughterhouses. My friend Hope, who has a ranch on the western slope of Colorado, has hesitated to raise her own beef in part because she’s have to ship it nearly to Kansas for slaughter, and what’s the point of raising your own if it still has to go to a feedlot? We have two local slaughterhouses nearby, and one of Jon Tester’s biggest contributions to the far-from-ideal Farm Bill was to legalize the sale of meat across state lines that has been slaughtered in non-USDA licensed abbatoirs that have passed state inspections. This is a really big deal since the USDA slaughterhouse rules were designed by agribusiness precisely to be too expensive for small abbatoirs and to drive them out of business. I think it was probably the processing of game that saved our local slaughterhouses, since it brings in a lot of business every fall but since game can’t be sold, doesn’t require USDA licensing.

And lunch ladies! Bring back the lunch ladies. My mother is not a morning person, and since she’d gone k-12 to a private school in Chicago, the idea of packing lunches for us was entirely foreign to her experience. She’d buy a year’s worth of hot lunches for each of us at the beginning of the school year. So I know from hot lunch, and while the food was never fabulous when I was little — at least it was real food, not just reheated chicken nuggets. We need jobs, right? And culinary school grads need experience cooking decent food under a real budget — during that phase of my 20s and 30s when I dated chefs, it was managing budgets that really separated the successful ones from the mere cooks. So let’s get some creative young cooks into school kitchens — give them tight budgets and picky kids and let’s see what they can do. How about a Realty show while we’re at it? (And while we’re really dreaming — can we team them up with Alice Water’s Edible Schoolyard project? Gardens and real food — you can teach a lot of stuff through cooking — reading recipes, calculating fractions, following directions, cooperation, manners — can you tell I come from a progressive/experiential ed background?)

So go read Tom’s terrific article, and contribute your ideas to the comments section. And while you’re at it, bookmark or subscribe to Grist’s RSS feed — you won’t regret it.

4 thoughts on “Cook for America?

  1. I’ve eaten lunch with my son a few times. His elementary school is just about 10years old, which may be why it has no kitchen. It has a reheating area. I can’t imagine a real meal being cooked there, much as I would prefer that.

    They do however serve salad every day; it would be nice if the lettuce, at least, were sourced locally (when possible).

  2. I agree that our business regulations should not be set by the business’ themselves (fox guarding the hen house and all.) I agree that we should cook real food for children. I agree with local and schoolyard gardens. But, I think we would be using our resources best if we did not focus on raising and eating animals.

  3. Yes, bring back the lunch ladies! Barbara Kingsolver’s book “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” reminds us that many children these days don’t know what a vegetable is, much less where it comes from. Thanks for the information from Tom Philpott.

  4. Charlotte, I had to tell you. In the flyer that comes home with my son once a month, there was a note from “nutrition services.” Apparently, the school district has its own kitchens where they make things like bread and pizza dough and spaghetti sauce, and then they send that food to each individual school. That’s why my son’s school only has a reheating station — because the cooking is done off-site. The flyer also says that the apples are bought from an orchard in Kimberly, Oregon, and the meat is bought (relatively) locally and a couple other things, too. How about that. One of these days I will call the nutrition services folks to get the full scoop.

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