By Mark Bishop, Deputy Director
It's hard not to get excited when you see an issue you care about get elevated in the media, so you can imagine how I felt when I heard that Top Chef is taking on childhood obesity and specifically school food.
But what happens when the media portrayal elevates information that's just wrong?
Sure, schools get reimbursements of $2.68 for each free meal they serve, but that's not close to the amount that school food directors have available for ingredients for each meal. As we've discussed before on this blog, that $2.68 has to cover the cost of overhead, labor, administrative costs, maintenance, cleaning, transportation. . . the list goes on. When it comes to spending on ingredients, the amount that most food service directors have to work with is less than a dollar. (In large urban districts, it's generally closer to $0.70.)
Unless Top Chef is going to have its competitors get into the details of covering overhead and systems costs, it's only fair to give them the same funding the schools are able to spend on ingredients.
With this show, Bravo has a real opportunity to raise awareness of the significant funding problems in our school food system. So maybe this reality show could be just a little more real.
Perhaps instead of restaurant chefs trying to cook a meal for $2.68, we should have 'Lunch Ladies' competing to showcase what’s actually possible when we cook fresh food from scratch for our kids. After that, let’s give the professional chefs the USDA commodity food to deal with.
And the reality is that right now, Congress has an opportunity to do something about that problem. The Child Nutrition Act is up for reauthorization and both the House and Senate have introduced legislation with proposed funding that falls short of making healthy school food -- and kids' health -- a priority. Take a moment to raise your voice and urge Congress to provide adequate funds for healthy meals.