Home Environment Students and Local Residents Learn About Local Lunches in Fall Sustainability Series

Students and Local Residents Learn About Local Lunches in Fall Sustainability Series

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On Wednesday, Ohio University students and faculty, as well as employees of nearby Athens County Health Department and Athens City Schools, gathered at the Athena Theater to watch Cafeteria Man, a documentary on improving the health of school lunches.

Loraine McCosker, the organizer of the Fall Sustainability Series, said her goal in showing the film and hosting the panel was to help students learn and understand sustainability in their everyday lives and graduate with a better grasp of how they can improve their own habits.

“This film is about taking charge, and after what we saw [on election night], we need to work at the grassroots level,” said McCosker. “We need to be responsible for our communities in whatever part we’re working or engaged in.”

The film follows Tony Geraci as he tries to help fix public school lunches in the city of Baltimore. Geraci, a New Orleans native, has plans to get students to grow vegetable gardens, teaching students from elementary school up to seniors in high school vocational skills and how their food is created and brought to them.

The film focused on the shift America has taken from serving fresh fruits and vegetables in cafeterias to serving processed foods that have more recently seen the inside of a freezer than the inside of a farm. Geraci discovered that he could get peaches cheaper from local farmers than he could from the federal commodities, saving the district money and boosting the local economy. From there, he expanded what other foods he bought locally and eventually began working with teachers and district dieticians to teach students about where their food comes from and to create healthy meals for students across the district.

After the film, students were invited to speak with a panel consisting of students from Federal Hocking High School and Athens High School as well as Ohio University, a health educator from the Athens County Health Department, professors from Ohio University and more.

During the panel, the panelists reflected on the film and how they felt it affected them personally in their roles within Athens. Students, parents and local residents were invited to ask questions of the panelists as well.

Ruth Dudding, the health educator of Athens City and County Health Departments, noted that the changes seen in the film were driven by someone who had the expertise, talent and resources to really impact the students.

“What we really need is a school food service coordinator for the county,” said Dudding. “I don’t know that we have enough food being produced locally to feed every single student in Athens County entire meals, but at least portions of the meals could be produced [in the surrounding area].”

Tom Gibbs, who recently accepted the position of Assistant Superintendent of Athens City schools, has tried to arrange groups in the past to see how food could be handled in local areas. He mentioned how the power of the local community is great, but once students grow up, parents are no longer as involved and systems fall apart.

Gibbs is working to get more than local produce into local school cafeterias. He has pushed to get locally grown and produced meats and dairy products onto lunch trays, and noted how the emphasis was on local and organic foods.

However, the results of the recent election worried Gibbs.

“The current administration is not particularly friendly in regards for funding for public schools,” said Gibbs. “The fact of the matter is that even with recent budgets increases, Athens City Schools is several million dollars below where we were six years ago. I’m not confident that next biennial budget will give us a lot of room to improve lunches.”

Students interested in learning more about Cafeteria Man and related ideas can check out the film from Alden Library to show under public usage rights, and are encouraged to contact the Ohio University Office of Sustainability with ideas and questions.


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