Students in the San Francisco Unified School District are primarily served meals that were cooked, frozen and then shipped across the country to be distributed and then reheated. This TV dinner-style dining is subpar when compared to the cuisine San Franciscans should expect.
Other districts in the region and around the nation have made great leaps forward when it comes to serving fresh, healthy food for students. San Francisco has lagged, but the new superintendent, Richard Carranza, has said upgrading the food in The City’s public schools is a priority. And now the district is rightfully close to dumping its current meal provider, which meets the requirements for what is allowed to be called a meal in schools, but little else.
To be fair, the district has added healthier snacks, vending machines with full meals and, in some places, salad bars. And the district also has moved ahead with programs such as a point-of-sale system that allows all students to go through the same lines instead of separating and stigmatizing the ones who receive free or reduced-price meals.
But with the old food provider, the core of the system was still broken. The new company, whose contract needs to be approved by the Board of Education, is Oakland-based Revolution Foods, which says it provides freshly cooked meals instead of prepared ones.
It only makes sense for the district to ensure that the kids in our schools have access to the same quality foods available in our community. The district should be applauded for selecting a new food-service provider, but officials, parents and advocates should not stop there. After the district became one of the first to phase out unhealthy snacks and drinks in schools, it then rested on its laurels.
Other districts around the state are moving toward cooking fresh, locally sourced foods in kitchens of their own. In Oakland last month, voters approved a bond that will help fund construction of a centralized kitchen. Getting to that point took years and years of studying. Comparatively, San Francisco is just getting started with a five-year plan.
The Board of Education should approve the contract with Revolution Foods to start serving students fresher, healthier food for breakfast, lunch and snacks. But food advocates have pointed out that a true shift in healthy meals will involve more than just the food on the plates. It includes when children are fed, in what environments children are fed and making sure kids feel secure about participating in the programs for free and reduced-price meals.
Well-fed students perform better in the classroom and have better attendance. With this in mind, the district needs to build on its new contract and continue it push to ensure students are given the best food possible. Food that is, in the superintendent’s own words, “commensurate to the food in our community.”