Now that I have kids in the local schools, I have been pondering cafeteria food recently. That was especially brought home when I was invited this fall to attend a local gathering considering the issue. The Farm to Cafeteria Conference brought together many "stakeholders": local food providers, farmers, health care workers, teachers and administrators, even the Washington Secretary of Health attended. We heard speakers, watched films, had breakout sessions and small heated discussions over the fresh food local farmer Nash Huber provided for lunch.
And what did we accomplish? I am still not entirely sure. There was a followup meeting in our town, with action steps we all could take. But as it is, we are all left to doing our own thing, protesting in isolated ways, hoping to make a difference, but each perhaps reinventing the wheel.
This article in the NYT gives me hope. Maybe we can change something, if we are brave and creative in our approach . . .
Between them, Kristin Richmond and Kirsten Tobey have worked on Wall Street, traveled the world and taught school from East Africa to Ecuador. Now they make lunch for a living.
Friends since they met in business school at the University of California, Berkeley, Ms. Richmond and Ms. Tobey founded Revolution Foods Inc. to ride a political and economic wave: surging support for healthier food in school cafeterias.
As a result, the standard cafeteria fare is doing little to curb the nation’s rising rate of childhood obesity and might even be contributing to it.
That was the problem that Ms. Richmond and Ms. Tobey identified in a graduate school class and set out to solve. What began as a class project is now a growing company with headquarters in Oakland, 240 employees and operations in Los Angeles, Denver and Washington.
“The momentum around this issue is unbelievable,” said Ms. Tobey in an interview this month.
Ms. Richmond, 34, the company’s chief executive, and Ms. Tobey, 31, the chief operating officer, came together in 2005 just as child obesity and nutrition were moving toward the top of the nation’s health policy agenda.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and his wife, Maria Shriver, had made fighting obesity a major priority. Mr. Schwarzenegger signed legislation boosting nutrition standards for school meals and limiting the sale of soda and junk food on campus. He also authorized a pilot project to increase the reimbursement for school breakfasts by 10 cents if the meal included fresh fruits or vegetables.
Mr. Schwarzenegger is expected to propose new measures this year, and now Michelle Obama has joined the movement, announcing that she will make fighting childhood obesity a special cause in the White House. In a speech this month to the United States Conference of Mayors, Mrs. Obama called it one of the “biggest threats” to the American economy.
As students at Berkeley, Ms. Richmond and Ms. Tobey saw this trend coming. They interviewed dozens of teachers, parents and school officials in the Bay Area to learn more about the school meal business and to find out what kind of change might appeal to the school community.
“The teachers said they were embarrassed,” Ms. Tobey said. “They were teaching about nutrition in their classrooms and then the kids were going into the lunch room and saying, ‘Why are you serving me this?’ ”
So Revolution Foods adopted higher standards than the government requires for school meal programs. The meals are prepared fresh daily and feature foods free of artificial preservatives, colors, flavors and sweeteners. Every lunch includes fresh fruit and vegetables.
The breakfasts and lunches contain no high-fructose corn syrup or trans fats, the milk is hormone-free and the meats are from cattle that have not been given antibiotics or hormones. Whenever possible, the food is organic and uses locally grown ingredients. Nothing is fried.
Revolution Foods built a partnership with Whole Foods, the natural foods grocery store chain, and tapped into that company’s network of suppliers. Whole Foods also prepared and packaged the first meals Revolution Foods sold to an Oakland charter school as a pilot to see if the business could be viable.
Even before that project ended, other local schools began inquiring about the service, and the business quickly grew and attracted capital from investment firms with a social mission, including the Bay Area Equity Fund. Today Revolution Foods is serving more than 30,000 lunches a day, mostly in low-income communities, and still growing.
Later this year Congress and the president will most likely reauthorize the federal child nutrition program, which subsidizes school meals for poor children. Ms. Richmond and Ms. Tobey say they hope to see that bill increase reimbursements to the schools while targeting any new money to schools that buy or make meals that use whole, fresh foods and healthy ingredients.
That would improve nutrition for children while boosting Revolution Foods’ bottom line. The idea that they could do both has been at the heart of the pair’s business plan from the beginning.
Daniel Weintraub has reported on California politics and policy for more than 20 years.More Articles in US » A version of this article appeared in print on January 24, 2010, on page A27A of the National edition.
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