Brain Brawn & Body
Brain Brawn & Body blogs on health, nutrition/fitness, lifestyle, leisure and finances.
I was moved by a piece I saw on PBS this past Sunday. It was titled, Cafeteria Man. The film chronicled the work of Tony Geraci, who was then the food service director for Baltimore City Public Schools.
Have you seen it? If not, and you want to be enlightened by a inspirational bit of cinema that will change your view of school feeding programs and what our children are fed, then you want to see this.
For us in Milwaukee, it has a familiar face – Will Allen, the founder of Growing Power. After many years of trying to educate people here, Allen has found some traction. He has almost single-handedly taken on the issue of urban farming, winning over some of his biggest doubters. I know, I was one of them. I didn’t think that people would or could change their eating habits.
But Allen, like Geraci is tenacious. They are unbending in their belief that if introduced early enough, people can and will develop an appreciation for food grown organically, on local farms or even in their own backyards. The other and maybe most important point is that the food we eat doesn’t have to cost a king’s ransom.
Cost isn’t the driving force in the work that Geraci does. He understands that to get the ear of the bureaucrats and politicians who ultimately make the decisions about what kids are fed and how much is spent on the programs that feed them, you have to talk more about money than proper dieting.
And Geraci does just that. He illustrates the cost benefits of shifting from processed foods to farm grown fruits and vegetables in ways that even the least interested would sit up and take notice.
In addition to being an accomplished chef with extensive experience running restaurants, he has also been a food broker for a major food distributor. It was these experiences that he brought to the more industrial service model employed by school districts. First it was a small district in New Hampshire where he began his crusade to change the way children are fed in school cafeterias. And in no small feat he managed to bring the district’s food service program out of the red and into the black.
Then it was on to Baltimore, a district with more than 80,000 students. There, he has worked to not only introduce the students to new foods and how to grow and harvest them, he has included the parents and school board members and anyone who would listen to his plea that access to good, nutritious foods are essential to effective learning.
In an article on Geraci written by the Washington Post’s Jane Black, Geraci says, “You cannot have the expectation that a teacher can teach if the kid is hungry or jacked up on sugar. My job is to put healthy kids in front of teachers so they can teach.”
This guy gets it. One can only hope that others who share in the decision making process get it too.
By the end of the film, Geraci had moved on to Tennessee where he was heading the food service program in Memphis Public Schools. There, it appears that resistance is lower; he was having greater success than he had in Baltimore where he, literally, moved mountains.
What the film did for me was to shed some light on the importance of eating the right things and beginning this at a young age, if possible. Geraci and Allen say it is possible to change the habits of a nation that is hooked on fast and junk food if only given the chance. They have seen children start out with frowns on their faces when first tasting foods they were unfamiliar with, to smiling and enjoying those vegetables they once said were, “nasty”.
I can’t say that I have always eaten vegetables and fruits for their nutritional value. I just like them. We were fortunate when we were young to have a mother who insisted that we eat vegetables. My grandmother had a grape vine in her backyard and she grew cantaloupe and a few vegetables in her little garden. It was the way it was done back then.
We seem to be getting back to those “good old days” with the advent of urban and even rooftop farms sprouting up in city settings. We have become farmers of circumstance, I’d call it. The circumstance being that we have large swaths of land in some areas where houses and buildings once stood. Stressed economies have all but ruled out any hope of new buildings growing out of that land. So why not food? It won’t go to waste.
This is what makes Geraci and Allen’s point so relevant and should compel us to follow suit.
As we like to say at Brain Brawn & Body, “If people know better, they’ll do better.” These kids and their parents know better now, thanks to people like Geraci and Allen, I have to believe that they will do better.
To get your copy of the film, Cafeteria Man or for more information, contact email@example.com or call 800-475-2638.