Measure would ban catering trucks outside schools

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A proposed ordinance banning catering trucks from parking outside of San Francisco’s public schools is the latest effort to keep junk food and soda out of the hands of students, as childhood obesity continues to dominate health discussions.

Supervisor Sean Eslbernd proposes prohibiting the mobile catering vehicles — which usually sell junk food and less nutritious fare — from selling within 1,500 feet of a public secondary school.

In 2003, in response to parent pleas, San Francisco’s Board of Education passed a resolution mandating the removal of soda and junk food from all district cafeterias and vending machines.

As part of the new policy, the district’s Student Nutrition department also worked to improve the food sold in the school cafeterias. The district’s new lunch standards are on par with federal government standards, which require the fat in each entrée and vegetable combo to be 30 percent or less, according to Dana Woldow, a parent of three and the co-chairperson of the district’s Student Nutrition and Physical Activity Committee.

The district’s healthy food program has been threatened in recent years by the presence of catering trucks, which pull up to the front door of the district’s high schools to peddle soda, junk food and other high-fat, high-calorie foods.

Woldow said what makes the situation even more frustrating is that school administrators — at high schools that are supposed to have closed campuses — allow the students to go outside to purchase food from the catering trucks. Out of 15 high school campuses, only four have open campuses that allow students to leave during break times.

“I have nothing against the catering trucks, per se, but foradults who don’t have access to food, for example at a construction site,” Woldow said. “But they shouldn’t be allowed to take advantage of 14-year-olds who don’t have the sense to eat a good meal.”

Margaret Chiu, an assistant superintendent of high schools for the district, said such a law would be helpful to principals who have too much to do already without trying to chase away catering trucks. Chiu is the former principal of Galileo High School, which does have a catering truck that comes to the school daily, she said.

“They do have a license to sell, so we can’t tell them not to sell around the school,” Chiu said. “There are students who go to the trucks, because it’s convenient, and the trucks offer a choice, an alternative for the students.”

Woldow said administrators concerned with expanding their food choices should talk to the district, not support the trucks — a competitive drain to cafeteria sales, which support the overall student nutrition program, including meals for low-income children.

beslinger@examiner.com

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