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A Better Food Culture

05/11/12 | by slowfoodsf | COBA

Acre Gourmet – Sponsor of Childhood Obesity Bay Area (COBA) Mid-Year Conference
Can you imagine a world in which a young boy sits in a cafeteria, surrounded by classmates and teachers, enjoying a wholesome lunch of chicken quesadillas with freshly grilled vegetables and a dessert of fresh strawberries? One in which this happy little boy exclaims to his friends, “You know what!? I think it’s almost asparagus season!!” Does this sound like a mere fantasy? Thankfully – the folks at Acre Gourmet have made this dream a reality.

Fresh asparagus for the kids

Fresh asparagus for the kids

Acre Gourmet is in the business of creating “a better food culture.” Their mantra is very similar to Slow Food’s commitment to Good, Clean and Fair – Acre uses a proven integral approach that combines healthy organic ingredients and environmentally friendly practices, paving the way for a better approach to eating. They specialize in designing and managing distinctive on-site restaurants, lunch programs and concessions in schools and business centers throughout the Bay Area. And they have generously offered their services to Childhood Obesity Bay Area (COBA) – they are donating the lunches we’ll be enjoying at our upcoming conference.
Acre has been involved in feeding children healthy food for over seven years. They have developed programs in four private schools in San Francisco – providing counsel, nutritious and delicious food and ongoing support to ensure their school lunch programs are successful. They consult with the schools to ensure their kitchens are outfitted with equipment that can support the preparation of fresh, homemade food (most school kitchens are only set up to heat pre-packaged, processed foods). They provide rotating menus featuring locally produced, organic items that are nutritionally balanced and child-friendly. Acre even hosts regular “tasting” events at the schools where the kids can learn about various kinds of produce. Imagine a child exclaiming “I really like Cara Cara oranges better than Blood oranges. They’re so much sweeter!”

Kids with kale - harvest from Cathedral School for Boys rooftop garden

Kids with kale - harvest from Cathedral School for Boys rooftop garden

Britt Galler, Acre’s Executive Chef, was kind enough to talk with us about their work. She focused on the fact that everyone at the organization recognizes how fortunate they are. Over the course of their history, they have received tremendous validation. Kids are eating more fresh produce and the schools are totally engaged in ensuring students are receiving healthy, nutritional meals. At the same time, Britt recognizes that the children they feed are extraordinarily fortunate. Most schools can’t afford to support school lunch programs like the ones Acre promotes. Public schools are challenged to provide healthy fare. Between inadequate funding to the tremendous amount of bureaucratic red tape that dictates what schools can and can’t serve – oftentimes, nutritious school lunch programs are but a dream. Acre does what they can though. They provide free counsel to any school that needs it – sharing the wisdom they’ve developed over the years and distributing information about nutritional school lunch programs to anyone who is interested. And they are committed to enhancing nutrition and promoting healthy eating habits of all children.

Though she is very aware of the issue of childhood obesity, Britt rarely sees overweight kids at her schools. “Childhood obesity is partly a socio-economic issue,” Britt said. “Schools with less funding often have the higher rates, and a contributing factor is that the lunch menu relies heavily on processed foods.” This disparity is another reason she’s so thrilled to be helping out with the COBA conference. She told us, “I look at food as the basis for everything. But it is marginalized in today’s schools – food education receives hardly any attention. Yet it’s at the heart of so many issues – health, the environment, social justice.”

There’s obviously a lot to be done to address the issue of childhood obesity. But the kind people at Acre Gourmet are doing what they can to help. They take the increasing health threat of childhood obesity into consideration as they cook for their community. And beyond the food – they focus on something that is rarely addressed in today’s schools. They insist that all students and teachers eat together – that they share a communal meal. “I love what happens when people eat together,” said Britt. “The kids talk about food, they connect with their teachers. It’s a supportive and nourishing environment.” Perhaps those of us who attend this year’s COBA Mid-Year Conference will keep this in mind as we enjoy the beautiful food prepared by Acre Gourmet. Let’s focus on respecting and valuing the food – and each other.