Q: In small, liberal cities like Boulder, Colo., and Berkeley, Calif., being a champion of healthy food in schools is a little bit like preaching to the choir. What’s it like dealing with these issues in an inner city?
A: There are vast food deserts here in Baltimore. Ninety percent of the population in Baltimore is below the poverty line, and 90 percent have serious issues around food security. If you look at the food wrappers on the ground, that’s what people eat. My focus isn’t a natural, homeopathic focus. It’s about getting real foods to kids. There’s a chasm between the trash and real food. Child nutrition in public education has to be addressed as a readiness issue. We need to limit predatory access [food marketing] to kids. Food manufacturers look at kids as a disposable resource.
Q: Are schools becoming the new-economy epicenter for under-served areas?
A: I’m a triple-bottom-line guy. I believe in people, profits and prosperity. We have started creating these real-food oases here and creating green-collar jobs. We’ve built [garden] hoop houses at high schools. The stuff the students planted in October they ate in January. But we are fighting cultural things—we have to bridge the gaps and develop and solicit leadership in the community for these actions to work. It has to be a collaborative effort so the community becomes invested in it. We are incorporating vocational training into school kitchens; we have a student-run farm. We are using this to teach agro-hospitality. Whole Foods will be selling some of our produce. We have student-run “restaurants” and companies like Chartwells, [a food service provider offering healthy meals to students], ready to hire those students when they graduate. These actions impact other things too.
Q: What’s the next phase for kids’ nutrition in schools?
A: Continued community buy-in. Nutrition is just as important as desks and education. A lot of people still don’t get this. Type 2 diabetes will strip an entire generation from this country, and communities need to recognize this. This is a fixable problem—we know the causes of type 2 diabetes and how to treat it.
Q: What does a future school look like to you?
A: Schools need to get back to the fundamentals of preparation—not everybody should/can go to college. There will be a greater emphasis on trade/tech schools and life skills. We’ll build kitchens in schools so that we can cook from scratch. Education will be more about preparation for life.
–Interview by Jylle Lardaro