Posted on Thu, March 08, 2012 by Slow Food USA
8 Comments | Categories: Books, Slow Food Chapters in Action,
Written by Georgeanne Brennan and Ann M. Evans co-leaders of Slow Food Yolo and coauthors of the 2011 book, “Cooking with California Foods in K-12 Foods”
The birth of a book has multiple backstories, as does this one. It began in a small, college town across the Sacramento River from California’s state capital. Davis, a middle class, well-educated, progressive community with a unified school district of 8,500 students, had not given thought to school lunch until a small group of disgruntled moms got together, horrified by “lunchables” served as a treat. Ann, former Mayor of Davis, was one of those moms.
Seven years later, there was a central kitchen, salad bars, gardens in every school and a waste reduction program at the elementary level. The school food service director, along with the community, which by then had formed into a school lunch booster club commonly called farm to school, wanted more.
On a chef’s walk through the Davis Farmers Market, school food service staff joined regional restaurant chefs in their chef whites strolling through the market, marveling at the fresh fruits and vegetables. A new vision was born. Rafaelita “RC” Curva, Food Service Director, said, “I wish someone could come and show us how to cook with all of this.”
Georgeanne, an award winning cookbook author and cooking school proprietor, said, “I can.”
Over the next three years, we offered professional development through cooking lessons to the 12-15 women and men in partnership with the district and Davis Farm to School. We introduced the tools of cooking from scratch. We conducted an extra virgin olive oil tasting, showed how to source rice and other product locally, and demonstrated grinding whole spices, cutting up whole chicken and growing and using fresh herbs in abundance.
The enthusiasm and creativity within the staff was extraordinary. As they tasted their way through three years of the flavors of the world from wraps to pizzas, rice bowls to tagines, season by season, and cooked m for the students, they began to teach each other their own ethnic traditions.
Raj taught Pakistani flatbreads, Rita taught fresh salsa, Sylvia taught mole, and everyone admired the knife skills of Arturo, now the lead soup maker.
We discovered that this methodology was not only fun and educational, but liberating for the staff and thought this was a way to improve school lunch from the inside out, in a sustainable and systemic manner. Suspecting professional development of this nature would unlock school lunch reform in an affordable, manageable way for many communities, large and small, rural and urban, we approached Center for Ecoliteracy, a long time leader in Rethinking School Lunch with our idea for a book.
A year later, after further testing in urban Oakland, “Cooking with California Food in K-12 Schools” was launched at a statewide conference for school food professionals convened by Center for Ecoliteracy and held at the UC Davis campus in a LEED certified dining commons in partnership with UC Davis Dining by Sodexo. Six months later, the book, free and downloadable in Spanish and English on line, has been downloaded 20,000 times.