Monday, April 12, 2010

Three Chefs and The White House, Start a "Food Revolution"

On Friday, April 9, 2010 I was one of only three chefs, the others were Tony Geraci of Baltimore City Schools (L) and Sam Kass of The White House invited to participate in the White House Childhood Obesity Summit on April 9, 2010 in Washington D.C. This summit was a part of Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move!” campaign to solve the epidemic of childhood obesity within a generation and an opportunity for the President’s Task Force on Childhood Obesity to hear from experts and practitioners about the extent and causes of childhood obesity in this country. Their plan to solve the problem within a generation is due to the President in May.
The First Lady gave the opening remarks at the summit, saying that “we all need to do our parts as well, because the fact is, that our kids didn’t do this to themselves.” Administration officials attending included Education Secretary Arne Duncan, Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orszag, Surgeon General Regina Benjamin, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, and Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Kathleen Merrigan. After Mrs. Obama made brief welcoming remarks, Domestic Policy Adviser Melody Barnes took over encouraging a 'walk and talk moment' and said it was time for "all hands on deck," as the task force focuses on its report for the President. Then each administration official spoke briefly. There was a brief Q & A with the audience of participants, and then Barnes dismissed them for breakout sessions.

I participated in the school food discussion that was moderated by Kevin Concannon of the USDA. The participants were tasked with identifying 3 to 5 of the best ideas to present to the writers of the roadmap for the task force. The best 5 ideas included: Using schools for improving nutrition for American children considering food and nutrition environment, increasing nutritional quality of school meals, changing school environment, and infrastructure of schools that would lead to key benchmarks and actions.

New Haven is the leader in the way of offering healthier food options in schools and enhanced education in healthy eating. The district has received a number of grants for improving the food in schools including expanding breakfast offerings, participation in the USDA Whole Grain Pilot Program, and modernizing the food preparation equipment in schools. Additionally, they are increasing the amount of fruits and vegetables available to students (some from local farms), they have added roasted chicken on the bone to the menu at all schools, they have significantly reduced the amount of breaded proteins by eliminating breaded chicken nuggets and chicken patties, they have removed all a-la-carte snacks from K-8 schools (i.e chips, cookies, etc.) and are working to incorporate more vegetarian options into the school lunch menu. Additionally, school gardens are becoming very popular and there is hope that a district farm may be created that will produce organic ingredients to be used in the district’s meals.

I am both honored and excited to be working with The White House and USDA on this important initiative on combating childhood obesity. As a school nutrition professional it is very encouraging to have so much support from the federal government surrounding child nutrition.

First Lady Michelle Obama & Education Secretary Arne Duncan

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