A year ago, when I was working as an editor at the magazine Whole Living, I oversaw a special issue on food featuring “Visionaries”—people making a real difference in the way this country thinks about eating. There was “The Motivated Mayor” (Michael Bloomberg); “The Integrator” (Harlem chef and restaurateur Marcus Samuelsson); and, among several others, there was “The Badass.”

That would be Marion Nestle. Read more

The USDA earned praise this past June when it released its ground-breaking new rules for “competitive” school food, i.e., the snacks and beverages that compete with the federal school meal and are offered to students through school stores, snack bars, vending machines, and other outlets.  These new rules, while not perfect, will go far to eliminate junk food from school campuses in an era of childhood obesity and poor nutrition.  But even as the nation as a whole is moving ahead to improve student health, here in Texas, the legislature has just taken a big step in the wrong direction. Read more

Three days ago I met Tae-Young Nam. He’s a recent University of Wisconsin grad, who studied pre-medicine in college, and spent last year serving in Chicago public schools as a teaching assistant with City Year. He’s headed off this coming week to Anthony, New Mexico to become a FoodCorps service member. He’ll be teaching kids about healthy food, building and tending school gardens with them, and collaborating with school food staff to get high quality local food onto school lunch trays. Read more

“I bring my lunch to school every day because the school food is pretty disgusting,” Nick Hilliard, a senior at Apopka High School in Florida, told high school reporter Rachel Armstrong.

“If you’re willing to spend some money, you can have a well-balanced meal,” said a senior from Portland, Oregon, in her school newspaper.

“A lot of the food is oily. It doesn’t look good,” said a sophomore at California’s Oakland Tech, as quoted in her high school paper. Read more

In a time when off-shoring and outsourcing are household words discussed around dinner tables by struggling families, smart investments in local economies are essential. Yes, these sorts of investments can be made by socially responsible businesses or proactive public sector agencies. But they can also be made by entrepreneurial nonprofit organizations like DC Central Kitchen.

When the economy bottomed out, we knew we needed to generate more of our revenue and reduce our reliance on private foundations whose portfolios had been battered in the market crash. We also knew that the unemployed, at-risk men and women we trained for culinary careers as part of our hunger-fighting mission were going to face a tougher time than ever finding work.

We decided to go ‘all-in’ on the idea of social enterprise, and successfully bid on a multi-million dollar food service contract with the District of Columbia’s public school system. Not only were we charged with making more meals, but with finding a way to break new ground in the healthy school food movement. Read more

When San Francisco voters passed the three phases of the Proposition A facilities upgrade bond in 2003, 2006, and 2011, they approved money to cover the design and construction of green schoolyards for at least 83 San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) elementary, middle, and high schools. SFUSD is the first urban school district to embrace outdoor learning opportunities in this fashion. It is also one of the first large districts in the state to implement the Common Core State Standards, a new set of English language arts and mathematics standards focused on real-world college and career readiness.

Seizing on this opportunity, I met with Rosie Branson Gill last fall to discuss how our organizations (San Francisco Green Schoolyard Alliance and 18 Reasons, respectively) could work together to provide more opportunities for San Francisco students to engage both in school gardens and with the craft of cooking. On February 17 of this year, 13 elementary classroom teachers, garden coordinators, and parents gathered for the launch of Cooking the Common Core: Bringing Educational Standards to Life in the School Garden, a new training series designed to do just that. Read more

Three of Berkeley Unified School District‘s elementary schools–Malcolm X,  Rosa Parks, and Washington—are in jeopardy of losing their entire cooking and gardening program funds beginning in October this year.

Under existing guidelines, the schools will no longer qualify for federal funding because they have fewer than 50 percent of their students enrolled in the free and reduced-lunch program, according to Leah Sokolofski, who supervises the program for the district.

Berkeley has an international reputation for its edible schoolyards, where public school children of all economic means learn what it takes to grow a radish and sauté some chard. Such funding cuts to the program, whose total budget is $1.94 million a year, would represent a significant setback in the city’s pioneering efforts to date. Read more

Given all the media attention, you may think that Alice Waters is the only person in Berkeley doing anything to fix school food–and that her Edible Schoolyard Project is the only organization tackling this topic across the country.

But that perception would be wrong. Founded in 1995, the Center for Ecoliteracy has also long championed school food reform and channeled funding in the millions to garden programs, cooking classes, and nutrition-based curriculum in Berkeley public schools. Read more

This spring on national television, British celebrity chef, restaurateur, and food system revolutionary Jamie Oliver filled a school bus with sugar.* The white stuff poured over seats and out of windows, piling into three foot drifts outside the bus as a handful of school parents looked on, speechless. The sugar represented the total amount in Los Angeles Unified School District’s (LAUSD) milk every week. “Yeah, I’m trying to make it dramatic!” Oliver shouted, “Because I want people to care!” Oliver was dismayed that more parents weren’t there to witness the stunt. “Maybe coming to LA was a big mistake,” he lamented.

Oliver’s crusade for better school food began in England, where he got £2 billion voted into the budget for cooked from-scratch meals in 2005. Last year he launched Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution in the U.S., accompanied by an ABC television series filmed in small-town West Virginia that went on to win an Emmy for Outstanding Reality TV Program. For this year’s season of Food Revolution Oliver had hoped to film inside cafeterias and a large food processing center in the LAUSD. But he was blocked by the school board, or more specifically, Superintendent Ramon Cortines.

To hear the media tell it Jamie Oliver has had a rough year. In addition, some food activists have been critical of Oliver’s show and methods. But to see 2011 as a failure for Oliver is to miss the point of his mission. It’s not to dominate American television ratings or even to directly influence food policy. Oliver’s mission is to ignite and expand an army of food revolutionaries in the U.S. who will drive change themselves. With the full force of his celebrity and national exposure he continues to be spectacularly effective in recruiting food activists. Read more