02 Sep Dreaming a new Dream
I dream a new dream for a food system that works for everyone and everything.
Our current food system works for some of us. Case in point, I have made a living working in kitchens as a chef for the last 35 years. The food system works for me.
The food system works for many agri-business farmers. The farms are huge, they use cheap water, oil and labor. For the most part, they make a lot of money. The food system works for them.
Then there are the billion dollar, hugely profitable manufactured food companies. For the Quaker Oats, and the Cokes, and the Pepsicos of our country, the system works for them.
The seed and chemical companies like Monsanto and ADM love the system. It definitely works for them.
For everyone at the USDA selling the main five crops (cotton, wheat, corn, soy beans, and rice) internationally—and all that this entails including all the folks involved—its working for them.
The same goes for the famous chefs and chain restaurants. Whether they have one outlet or 5000+, the food system works for them. It’s totally working for them…
And finally, let’s not forget about the school children in America that are eating free and reduced lunches and getting breakfast in their classrooms. This food may not be ideal, but it is indeed free or reduced, so in essence, its working for them.
But is it working for everyone and everything????
Let’s revisit this dream of the food system working for everyone and everything. There is enough clean food for everyone and this food is grown without chemicals or hormones. This utopia has very little waste. When people are connected to their food source, they consequently respect their food (and in turn their bodies and their health) more. My dream is to be able to accomplish all that. But how?
For starters, I think we need to begin at the very beginning, with our children and the habits and resources they have at a young age—at the school.
Imagine walking into a school and it smells great.
We all know the sounds of kids laughing in the school hallways can be wonderful as is the sight of their smiles. But dream for a moment using your other senses and dream about the smells wafting in and out of classrooms is actually scratch cooked food. Smell the bread as it is baking and garlic as it sautés. Now picture outside the school is no longer an unused lawn, but a garden, and the children are harvesting each day’s produce.
Now as you peak in, you see it’s a 1st grader’s special day….it’s her birthday. The students made the hummus and the cupcakes from scratch. And now they are gobbling it up.
Then walk into the kitchen and you see people cooking. They aren’t unpacking boxes of processed food or using heat lamps. They are actually washing and chopping produce, cutting raw meat and making salad dressings. These are happy and knowledgeable cooks making food at the last second so its fresh and tasty and appealing. This is food that kids will eat from a menu that the kids created. Every day they are in the kitchen cooking with the staff. Picture it… separating waste, composting and recycling. And then you peek into the dining room and its quiet—not because there is a “drill sergeant” yelling into a microphone. It’s because they are eating—and all of it!!
Also, there is very little variety on this locally sourced and seasonal menu; it comprises of one solid, fresh entrée, with a vegan option and a kickass salad bar (that would make any vegetarian mom proud!) There is a huge reduction in waste because the children (and the parents) actually prefer a few wonderfully delicious and fresh options than lots of manufactured and processed ones.
The cooks call one person Chef because he/she is a real chef. This is not a driver that moved up the ladder with no clue how to cook, control portions, or deal with a farmer. Guest chefs are invited and welcomed whether they be famous chefs, or moms and dads, or other schools’ chefs. We learn from each other and continue to build this sense of community through this learning laboratory called the ‘heart of the house’, i.e. the kitchen.
And you know what else is possible….that this is actually profitable. No need to sell chips and junk food to boost profit. The cafeteria actually makes money. There is no large food service company serving sub-par food and diverting the money out of the community. The money stays in town. People make a living wage and invest back in the community. They absolutely love to serve kids their food and stay connected while they do it.
To dream a new dream for a food system to work for everyone and everything—we need a mutation. Just tweaking the system will not work. Currently, they are tweaking and that’s not enough. I am dreaming of systematic change from top down. Let’s begin by starting a “real” discussion about school food. What’s to follow with these blogs will discuss mutation. If you think you can tweak the current school feeding system—then maybe you shouldn’t keep reading—it is not for you.