In August of 2015, a pioneering collaboration between schools in California’s Sausalito Marin City District and the Conscious Kitchen—an offshoot of the environmental education non-profit Turning Green—changed the face of school lunches for students across the district. The students said goodbye to pre-packaged meals and hello to fresh, local, 100 percent organic meals made from scratch.
The Conscious Kitchen fare is seasonal and sustainably sourced, and free from GMO nasties (genetically modified organisms). Sausalito Marin City District schools were the first in the nation to embrace this project.
According to Common Dreams, who first wrote about the inaugural month of the project, over 500 students at Bayside MLK Jr. Academy in Marin City and Willow Creek Academy in Sausalito took part. Justin Everett, consulting chef with the Conscious Kitchen, explained his motivation: “By embracing fresh, local, organic, non-GMO food, this program successfully disrupts the cycle of unhealthy, pre-packaged, heat and serve meals that dominate school kitchens.”
The Conscious Kitchen meals are helpfully (and necessarily) accompanied by nutrition and gardening education. Sustainable lifestyle champions everywhere will know that setting a great example goes a long way, but education is paramount.
The Edible Schoolyard Project, a Berkeley-based nutritional non-profit, agrees, suggesting that “an integrated approach” works best. “Schools that … combine local, seasonal food procurement strategies with hands-on lessons taught in the classroom, kitchen, and garden are far more likely to sustain healthy school meal initiatives,” said Liza Siegler, the organization’s head of partnerships and engagement.
The Conscious Kitchen project was first tested in August of 2013 when 150 students and staff at Bayside MLK Jr. Academy were served fresh local food for breakfast and lunch every single day. The school reported back that disciplinary cases decreased and attendance increased over the course of the two years that followed, and “good food” was the catalyst.
“When you have a good meal, it’s easier to concentrate on your work,” Remy, a student at Bayside MLK, shared.
School Counselor Julie Auslander celebrated the project: “They’re trying fruits and vegetables that they’ve never even seen before in their lives,” she said. “It’s exposing them to a whole new palate.”
“Had you ever eaten quinoa before?” one student, Zion, was asked. “Nope!” came the short and very indicative response. “It’s opened me up to more healthy choices,” he added.
"That it's healthy for you and not just a bunch of warmed up food wrapped in plastic" -4th grade
Environmental news outlet EcoWatch shared an unsettling statistic: an estimated 80 percent of items on most supermarket shelves contain GMOs, and school food is one of the worst offenders. “This program is the first to take a stand against GMOs,” they wrote. “A growing body of evidence links [GMOs] to a variety of health risks and environmental damage.”
And that’s not all. The year 2010’s updated USDA nutritional standards required more whole wheat products, fresh fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins for school-aged children. “Not only does this program far exceed USDA nutritional standards,” confirmed Turning Green founder Judi Shils, “but it ties the health of our children to the health of our planet.”
Conscious Kitchen school meals proudly fall well within USDA budgets and far exceed their nutritional guidelines.
And, perhaps most importantly, the project’s forthcoming 4th-graders were full of praise for the nutritious (and delicious) fare. “It’s healthy for you and not just a bunch of warmed up food wrapped in plastic,” shared one delighted luncher.
“Delicious!” “Healthy!” “Creative, and epic,” came one-word contributions from a random selection of contented participants. Since the induction of the project, the staff and students eat together every day. “It’s love,” offered Bayside MLK’s Vice Principal Tenisha Tate. “We try to make sure that kids feel loved and appreciated. The Conscious Kitchen is a depiction of that love,” she added.
“It changes the culture of the school.”
Enjoy the full story of the project by watching the video below.