The chef's bold vision for school nutrition
I get hungry just thinking of all the programs that the city's new food services director, Tony Geraci, has in store for Baltimore's students. Some of his ideas seem so commonsensical that it's a wonder the city schools haven't tried them before.
Kids coming to school on an empty stomach? Give them breakfasts in their classrooms. (OK, that one was tried at a few of Baltimore's schools in the 1990s, but the program didn't go anywhere amid concerns about cleanliness.) Kids don't like the school lunch? Let them design their own menus. Kids don't have enough viable post-high school career prospects? Build a huge centralized kitchen for school meals and start vocational education classes there. While you're at it, convert a 33-acre system property into a farm, and you have yourself a big outdoor classroom.
Healthy food too expensive to serve at school? Buy local, and you'll help the environment while saving money. A peach from Carroll County costs the system 8 cents; an imported canned peach in corn syrup costs 14. And not only will the new in-classroom breakfast program help ensure that hunger doesn't prevent kids from learning, the school system might actually make money off of it. If 40,000 kids (or half the system's enrollment) eat breakfast at school this year, and assuming most of those kids return their forms for federally subsidized school meals, the system would make $1.6 million. Some of the money made would come from switching from cardboard milk cartons to plastic milk jugs that can be recycled -- putting between 34 and 40 cents a pound back into the system's coffers.
Geraci, who was profiled last month in Gourmet magazine, says he's going to turn Baltimore's food service operation into a model for urban school systems around the nation. Here's hoping that what turns up on the plate is as mouth-watering as the description on the menu.