The start of "a historic day in food"
This morning, before they headed off to the White House to help First Lady Michelle Obama kick off the new Chefs Move To Schools initiative, about 500 visiting chefs from across America gathered at the JW Marriott for a policy-heavy breakfast. It was hosted by Share Our Strength, the biggest non-profit foundation in America that's focused on hunger issues. The chefs got a rousing call to action--and a big dose of gratitude--from the panel of speakers, which inlcluded Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Mrs. Obama's Food Initiative Coordinator, Sam Kass.
SOS has been an important partner for the First Lady and her team during the development phase of the Chefs Move to Schools project, and was also responsible for rounding up many of the chefs who flew in to Washington for the event. (Above: Duncan during his remarks)
An array of celeb chefs have signed on to support Mrs. Obama, and they were all at the breakfast, too. SOS executive director Bill Shore welcomed the chefs.
"We are lucky to have both a president and a first lady who are interested in not only ending hunger, but also childhood obesity, which are often related," Shore told the chefs.
Shore urged the chefs to get involved with schools in their local communities, to stay involved--and to encourage their fellow chefs to do so, as well. (Above: Shore addressing the hundreds of guests at breakfast)
“Today there will be the greatest concentration of culinary power seen anywhere in the world,” Shore said about the launch event at the White House.
Kass, during his remarks, hit on the same theme, and reminded the chefs that they're being called to critical service for the nation.
“Today is truly a historic day in food,” Kass said.
Duncan spoke to the chefs about the importance of healthy school meals for academic success, and for dramatically reducing the school drop-out rate, which is currently at one in every three high school student.
"It's not just an economic issue, it's a moral issue," Duncan noted. He was interrupted by applause.
Duncan also pointed out that chefs who adopt schools can be advocates not only for nutrition education and improved school foods, but also for a strong reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act.
Duncan described the challenges he and his teachers and administrators faced during his tenure as CEO of Chicago Public Schools (2001-2008). Kids were being fed at school under the federal nutrition programs, but then facing long weekends in homes where parents didn't have the resources to buty healthy food--or any food at all.
"We started to, on the side, send food home with kids on the weekends," Duncan said. He added that this was done quietly, and with donated food, but that it was a critically important move for the kids' health, and for their ability to study.
That's the kind of action that's needed in communities across the country, Duncan said.
The chefs also got a big lesson in school food policy--and the current state of school lunch affairs--from Janet Poppendieck, professor of sociology at Hunter College, City University of New York, and author of the critically acclaimed Free For All: Fixing School Food In America.
They heard stories from chefs who have successfully adopted schools in their communities, and then Sam Kass welcomed the chefs, and sent them off to the White House. Once on campus, the chefs tromped across the South Lawn, and visited the Kitchen Garden. After, it was time to hear from Mrs. Obama....