In San Francisco, we like our food.  From the localvore movement to food trucks to Four Star restaurants like La Folie and Gary Danko, food is a hallmark of our culture. In a city this obsessed, you would think that the largest server in town would be good, or at least decent.  But the food in the San Francisco Unified School District, which serves five million lunches a year, often seems like it gets the least thought and attention.

San Francisco’s hardcore foodies might be shocked to learn that the lunch their kids eat daily is manufactured and prepackaged in Illinois, and that corn syrup and sodium are frequent ingredients.  The food arrives at our schools much like tv dinners or airline food, ready to be reheated and served.

To SFUSD’s credit, the produce they serve is often grown in California and seasonal, although SFGate writer Michael Bauer’s description of “orange segments that were a day away from becoming compost” is hardly appetizing.  All meals must meet nutrition standards laid out by the USDA, and are subject to strict requirements for school lunch menus. And of course, the sheer number of the meals SFUSD must serve imposes real problems of scale, limiting creativity and preparation.

Alice Waters changed the game in Berkeley with her Edible Schoolyard concept.  And dedicated parents in San Francisco have made real progress, installing herb and vegetable garden at schools that help supplement lunches.  Our school board has recognized the problem and is taking it seriously, with some members pushing for healthier menus and supporting SFUSD’s Student Nutrition and Physical Activity Committee.  But overall, San Francisco’s kids haven’t benefitted from our cultural commitment to healthy food.

Making sure our school kids get fresh, local, wholesome (and even good-tasting) food should be a priority. In other words, if we really do care about food in this town, we should walk the walk.

What do you think? Should improving school lunches in San Francisco be a priority? 

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