RODALE NEWS, WASHINGTON, DC—Pete Johnson and Bill Allen set out from northeastern Vermont at 4 p.m. last Thursday afternoon, arriving in Washington, D.C. Friday morning at 2 a.m., in time to join 500 chefs who were here to meet with Michelle Obama at the White House. They were back on the road by 2 p.m., and home in Craftsbury, VT, at 2:30 a.m. Saturday morning.
They had spent 21 hours on the road because the first lady sent out a call to chefs across to country, asking them to become involved in their local schools where they might be able to convince children that healthful food not only tastes better than junk food, but that it's cooler. That's a task that has defeated most lunch ladies for decades. The program, Chefs Move to Schools, will be run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) with help from Share Our Strength, a national nonprofit whose goal is to end childhood hunger. About 1,000 chefs have signed on so far to this latest component of the first lady's Let's Move initiative.
Johnson, who owns Pete’s Greens, a 50-acre vegetable farm where Allen turns some of the raw ingredients into prepared food, has plans to make school lunch next year for the 150 children in the Craftsbury school district every Friday, using produce from his farm.
White Hats at the White House
In the kind of 90-degree summer day for which Washington is infamous, the chefs sat on the shadeless South Lawn of the White House to hear the first lady cheer them on and thank them for working with schools. She also asked them to lobby for the Child Nutrition Reauthorization Bill, working its way through Congress now, that would add some—though not much—money to school lunch programs, set higher health standards for foods in schools, and expand the number of low-income children eligible for free or reduced-cost meals.
Then, some of the best-known of the chefs and food personalities, including Tom Coliccio, Michel Nishan, Cat Cora, and Rachel Ray, walked down to the White House garden with some local schoolchildren to harvest fresh ingredients (You can see some of their antics at the blog ObamaFoodorama.com). Later they cooked grilled chicken salad with herb-sherry vinaigrette (made with sherry vinegar, not sherry), broccoli and fennel with yogurt dip, and rhubarb strawberry crisp.
The chefs’ day started at 8 a.m., when they gathered at a nearby hotel to attend a program designed to help them make a connection with a school. The program, organized by Share Our Strength, emphasized the importance of using diplomacy because there will be people in the schools who don’t want any changes. And because, as Mrs. Obama reiterated in the afternoon, “We are not asking you to go into schools and take over.” Anyone who saw the Jamie Oliver television series, Food Revolution—his attempt to improve the quality and nutritional value of meals in a Huntington, WV, school—understands how difficult it is to change the mindset of the cafeteria personnel, not to mention the students.