Sunday, April 13, 2008

Baum Forum on School Food

I went to Hilary Baum's Forum on Schools, Foods and Community yesterday up at Teachers' College.

I've gone to a few of these. The first year, Ann Cooper was the keynote speaker. She is this incredible activist-chef who is now working with Alice Waters out in Berkeley trying to figure out a good public school lunch program. She is a powerhouse. She was spitting mad, swearing up on stage, being radical, making huge unyielding demands. I left that conference walking on air, ready to change the world.

The next year was different. They went heavy on the city officials: Office of School Foods (OSF), Dept of Ed, Parks Department. It was one long day of powerpoint presentations, with a couple activists here and there. It was boring and depressing. According to the officials, everything had already been fixed, so if any of us still had a problem with our kids' school food, well it must be something wrong with us.

I wasn't going to even go this year, but I was asked to come and be a panelist, and to speak about starting a school food group. Well in that case, sure.

My first thought was to show a slide show of cooking classes and the CSA farm delivery we get at my son's school... but then I thought, that's bullshit! I hate seeing pretty pictures of what other people have done. It doesn't help me. I want to know how they DID it. Step-by-step instructions, please.

So instead of showing pretty pcitures, I talked about getting past the obstacles and how any social change movement is fraught with resistance, and that the more we were prepared and accepting of these obstacles, the more easily we could stay on course. (By "accepting" I mean like how people in New Hampshire are accepting of black flies in June, and how they swat them away and try fly paper, and try all different kinds of eradication methods, and talk to their neighbors and friends about how they are dealing with it and never stop being totally irritated and pissed off about them, but also never take them personally.)

Susan Rubin, one of the Two Angry Moms, was the moderater of our panel. She emailed me the next day supporting the message I was giving -- and seeming to share my annoyance at the confluence of officials and sales pitches. Our panel was basically three NYC moms, and two salesmen (one for the OSF, one for a private company that does great food service for private schools). One of the salesmen actually talked about how he couldn't believe that parents wanted to get rid of chocolate milk.


Hilary Baum, if you read this? Next year can you put the officials and the DOE people and the OSF people and the salesmen into the audience, and make them listen to us? Please?

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