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Y&H isn’t sure how he missed this, but former Washington Post reporter Ed Bruske recently spent a week in the kitchen at H.D. Cooke Elementary School in Adams Morgan, where his daughter attends classes. He wanted to witness first hand this new era of the school lunch program, in which D.C. Public Schools food-service provider, Chartwell-Thompson, has replaced “pre-packaged meals from a food factory” with “something they called ‘fresh cooked’.”
Cooke administrators were generous in granting Bruske access to their kitchens; someone over there should have suspected the reporter wouldn’t like what he found. I mean, just look at how Bruske describes himself on his blog: “Ed Bruske now tends his ‘urban farm’ about a mile from the White House in the District of Columbia. Ed believes in self-reliance, growing food close to home and political freedom for the residents of the District of Columbia.”
Sure enough, in the conclusion to a multi-post series on his blog, Bruske was taken aback by this so-called “fresh cooked” approach:
Was I ever in for a surprise. As I soon discovered, there wasn’t much “fresh” about the food being served at H.D. Cooke Elementary School. When I passed through the doors of the “Kid’s Stop Cafe,” I walked straight into the maws of the industrial food system, where meals are composed of ingredients out of a food chemist’s lab, where highly processed food is doused with all sorts of additives and preservatives in distant factories, then cooked and shipped frozen so that it can be quickly reheated with minimal skill and placed on a steam table.
Like many of the parents who’ve been reading this series for the last five days, and communicating with me via our school listserv, I was perplexed by the sheer banality of so much processed, canned and sugar-injected food being fed to our children on a daily basis; disappointed that no one seemed to take issue with this sort of food service; chagrined that pizza and Pop Tarts and candied cereals were being served so routinely alongside Mountain Dew masquerading as milk–and all of it here in the nation’s capitol, right outside Michelle Obama’s door.
Are these really the lessons we want our kids to learn about food?
While I and other parents were feeling a little let down by what this witness account revealed, it would have come as little surprise to any of the thousands of school food service directors around the country. What I saw in the kitchen at H.D. Cooke reflects a culmination of trends that have been converging for decades in school cafeterias, a perfect storm, if you will, of industrialized food methods, meager school food budgets and federal government policy.
From there, Bruske explains how public school administrators nationwide have managed to get themselves stuck in this morass — as well as the difficulties of extracting themselves from it. It’s a good, passionate read, and I’d advise you to take a somber look at one school’s lunch program through Bruske’s eyes.