Take Note

September 21, 2004 1 min read

Eat Your Veggies

Lunch is going to turn into learning time for students in the Berkeley, Calif., public schools.

The 9,000-student district has signed an agreement with the world-renowned food guru Alice Waters to craft a new curriculum that will educate children about the importance of healthy nourishment.

Ms. Waters’ Berkeley-based Chez Panisse Foundation, named for her restaurant of the same name, has teamed up with the Center for Ecoliteracy in Berkeley and Children’s Hospital Oakland to give the district $3.8 million to create a new lunch program in 17 schools over the next five to eight years.

The initiative will strive to improve students’ health by having them plant organic gardens and learn to cook healthful food. The children will also study agriculture and ecology to increase their knowledge of the world’s well-being.

Ms. Waters has already gotten involved with the district through the Edible Schoolyard at Martin Luther King Middle School, which serves as the prototype for the program. Students at the school grow vegetables and other foods at a two-acre garden, which is her foundation’s largest grantee.

“Various teachers bring kids into the garden or to the kitchen and integrate what they are teaching in the classroom with the cooking,” said Ms. Waters.

A history teacher could complement her teaching of Middle Eastern studies, she said, by making Middle Eastern food in the kitchen, and a Spanish teacher could teach the names of food and vegetables in Spanish.

Ms. Waters, 60, opened Chez Panisse Restaurant, serving high-quality, pure, and fresh products, in 1971. She previously was a teacher and has an international certificate in teaching.

“I then had a child and I was interested in the future of this world,” she said.

Ms. Waters has been teaching the philosophy of healthy nourishment since she started her business. She believes that by treating eating as an academic subject, she can transform the “fast-food values” that are embedded in American society.

“Everything today is fast, cheap, and easy,” she said, “reaching people in such a superficial way.”

District Superintendent Michele Lawrence agrees. As an educational institution, schools are obligated to deal with the lunch habits of their students, particularly given the high rates of obesity and diabetes among children, she said.

—Tal Barak

A version of this article appeared in the July 28, 2004 edition of Education Week