Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Lunch at the Someday School

Percolating idea # 763: my someday school will have an all-school (teachers and students) family-style lunch each day.  That's right.  At big tables.  With family-style serving bowls, which will be passed.  We will sit down together, as a school family community, and we will dine, commune, share, and feast.  On healthy food, no less.  No fake food on styrofoam trays.  Instead, we will feast on a meal that students have helped prepare and will help to clean up.  And then we will have grown-up recess--a siesta or a reprieve--before resuming our afternoon studies.  You are invited to partake someday, too.

Depending on who you are, different portions of this proposal will sound crazy to you.  Are you the type who believes students cannot cook for and feed other students due to health code violations or lack of experience?  Or are you the sort who believes students and teachers have no interest in sharing a daily meal together?  Or, that we can manage healthy and delicious food for entire school full of children--food they will happily eat instead of fries and soda?

Where to begin?  First off, forget all the logistics.  Eating is important.  Sharing meals together creates family, culture, trust, and community.  Those of us who were fortunate enough to eat dinner with family, around a table each night know this.  My someday school will be small--around 300 kids, maybe.  And these kids, they will most likely need some extra family and love, and a safe place to find trust.  So, having lunch together each day is a lovely breeding ground for all that.

As for the food--well, we know how important good food is to healthy kids and a strong education.  Clearly Michelle Obama has brought this issue to the forefront with the White House garden and her "Let's Move" campaign.  Luckily, First Lady Obama is not the only one on the food move.

A fabulous teacher I know has just started up a new organization, FoodFight, designed to fight childhood obesity through food education and advocacy.  This August I'll be taking a week-long FoodFight training course at Columbia University and then teaching this food advocacy elective at my school to juniors and seniors in the fall.  (Carolyn--cofounder of FoodFight--and I have already agreed that I simply must use Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma for Kids as a main text for the course.  Hooray!)  On its homepage, FoodFight starkly states the problem: "poor nutrition correlates with low academic performance and directly affects the life chances of students from low income backgrounds" and "over 50% of African American and Latino children born in 2000 are expected to develop Type 2 diabetes in their lifetimes."  It's a problem, people.  But one we can try and tackle.

What's more, there's something of a school child food frenzy going out there among celebrity chefs.  Jamie Oliver won a TED prize in February of this year for his visionary proposal to bring healthy food to school cafeterias all over the country.  Really, if you have a few minutes, you've got to watch his acceptance speech, a.k.a. almost-over-the-top inspirational plan to change the world one school lunch at a time.  His performance is a whirlwind adventure, let alone the actual ideas he lays on the table, so to speak.

And if Sir Oliver weren't enough celebrity for one movement, Rachel Ray has thrown herself into the mix.  Now, let's be clear here.  I am not a Rachel Ray fan.  I find her cooking overly simplistic, her voice shrill and nasal, and her overall personality to be...well, lacking.  That said (rather ungraciously, too, I admit), she has also thrown down her gauntlet to help kids learn to grow, cook, and eat better food.  Her non-profit is called Yum-o!  Really?  The exclamation point in "Yum-o!" isn't even a true punctuation mark--it's a whisk.  Really?  Okay, enough cattiness on my end.  She wants to help the young people.  I like that.  I want to help the young people, too.

Which brings me back to my someday school and our lunches.  It's gonna be beautiful.  And the kids will cook for one another.  (You want to see a fantabulous somewhat related documentary?  Check out Pressure Cooker.  It's worth a watch, and finally available on Netflix.)  I know it's not the same for everyone, but I love to feed people--literally and metaphorically.  Feed the soul.  The mind.  The belly.  In other words, I like to grow people.  And I think that my students will someday like to feed, and grow, each other.  Around big tables.  A delicious school family.


  1. I love this idea Sarah. U.S. schools waste so much plastic during lunches everyday, it's a sin! Greyson went to a French school during his family stay last April. He loved the lunches. They were cooked on site and kids were allowed to go up for seconds! They also used real plates and metal utensils.

  2. Keep dreaming baby girl. Your dreams will come true. I believe in you and I believe in them.

    Hey, if I can be in a national magazine....anything is possible. :)

    I love you.

  3. fabulous idea! When I was little at school in England (it's not necessarily like this everywhere) we had a fabulous cook named Mrs Millan who made all of our meals from scratch. They weren't necessarily the most healthy foods, that wasn't the point, but every ingredient was fresh. We also (like Sandra said of Greyson) got to go up for seconds. After lunch, each table would take turns doing washing up on a rotating basis. She made a treacle tart that I'm sure they eat in Heaven. :-) -Lucy