Sunday, April 17, 2011

Changing School Food in Vancouver

In the kitchen


Over the weekend I had the opportunity to attend a workshop being put on by the Union of Operating Engineers for the food service staff in the Vancouver School District. Chef John Bishop, the owner of the famed Bishops restaurant on 4th in Kitsilano, was hoping to inspire the staff to cook using more local, fresh ingredients.

It was interesting attending as a member of the media rather than a staff member, as I'm so used to going to Professional development events myself. On the other hand, it was a bit of an advantage to be so familiar with schools, as I could ask questions that only someone working in the school system would know. Plus I blend in well-in fact, so well that I found myself the subject of a reporter wanting to interview me, which seemed comical at first, but then a bit awkward so I explained who I was and why I was there.

Mr. Bishop told us about his life growing up in Wales and what started him on the path to becoming a chef, eventually finding himself in Vancouver and opening his famous restaurant. Then we were treated to "Deconstructing Supper", a 40 minute video about genetically modified foods, which was both interesting and horrifying.

Of course, we were soon onto cooking. Mr. Bishop gave us tips and tricks on how to prepare a delicious, yet simple meal with marinated chicken, roasted squash, layered potatoes, and roasted pears for dessert. It was so simple, so easy, and yet so full of flavor that I can't wait to make the same dishes here at home this week for my own family! Would kids eat food like this at school? At mine they sure would.

Lunch!


Not much was said about the challenges, be it the serious lack of funding in the Vancouver school district (there's an 18.2 million dollar deficit for the 2010-2011 school year), or how some schools have contracted out their food service, and how political food really can be. Instead we concentrated on the positives; Windermere's amazing greenhouse and compost program, the fantastic special ovens that make fries without using a deep fryer, and how the kids without the money to buy lunch are subsidized.

Windermere is truly the leader in the Vancouver school district for school food. A greenhouse, raised garden beds, and giant composter are a testament to their commitment to healthy, local food. I couldn't help but think how the kids there are so lucky; for at risk teens, being able to be outside among the magnolia trees toiling in the dirt is a place where they can be successful and proud of their work, rather than struggling inside a classroom.

My creation


I'm going to admit it right now; I was naive. I thought that with the Healthy Living Guidelines, we in BC were doing pretty good. We don't need a food revolution, I thought smugly, we're fine. Until of course, I looked at the menus on those schools that have food catered.

Fries. Hot dogs. Hamburgers. Ham sandwiches on white bread. Fruit roll ups.

Oh no. No, no, no, no.

I see a lot of enthusiastic, dedicated, amazing food service workers and chefs at the Vancouver School District that want to make change for the kids, but are faced with massive cutbacks that make things extraordinary difficult and in the end, may cost some of them their jobs. Just as in Jamie's case, it appears that the political hurdles far outweigh the desire to do so, here.

So Vancouver, it's about time that everyone be heard and pitch in. Changing school food won't happen overnight, and this workshop was a fantastic first step to get the ball rolling. Now it's up to you guys-the parents, the lunch packers, those who can change the school system with your voice, to speak up. Let the principals know if you think the bought hot lunch is not healthy for your kids. Make suggestions for something healthier. Volunteer. If you know a local farmer, see if you can rustle up some fresh fruit or veggie donations for the kitchens. Most of all, talk. Ask. Join the PAC and be heard.

The only way to cause a revolution is to make some noise.

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