The project is possible because of a $100,000 federal Communities Putting Prevention to Work grant, said SPS Nutrition Services Director Eric Boutin. It's tied to Mayor Mike McGinn's Let's Move! program—launched yesterday—which seeks to end childhood obesity.
A big part of Let's Move! is about eating healthy, and let's face it, kids don't always like eating healthy. Just because there's fresh food in the cafeteria doesn't mean students won't cross the street for a juicy burger or greasy Chinese take-out. But providing a enticing and healthy alternative is a big step in the right direction.
Nearly one-quarter of Seattle students in eighth, 10th, and 12th grades are overweight, with rates for Hispanic and African-Americans being even higher. I asked Boutin whether SPS had banned trans fats, preservatives, refined flour, high-fructose corn syrup, white bread, generic hot dogs and hamburgers, and extremely salty foods.
"We did get rid of some of them—we still have some frozen food, but there are lots of things we do from scratch," he said. Nutrition programs can be costly for a cash-strapped public school, but there are ways to get it done. When renegade chef Ann Cooper decided to change cafeteria culture in Berkeley, Calif., the program had to borrow money from the city's General Fund to get started, but after five years it became sustainable. More students are participating in the School Lunch Program now. Of course, Cooper had a fairy godmother in California's reigning food goddess Alice Waters and her Chez Panisse Foundation, but hey, we have foundations here too.
"We need the community to help us," Boutin said. He's right. Douglas's chefs are doing the right thing by stepping up. Many of them have children in SPS and know what a difference nutritious food can make.
*The Seattle school district has clarified that it is working with operations managers and chefs from Douglas's restaurants, and not Douglas himself. The initial post had said that the district was working with Douglas and his team.