Chicago Public Schools food chief Leslie Fowler welcomed a delegation from the French fruit and vegetable sector Tuesday, as part of “Fresh Attitude Week”—meant to highlight fresh produce in school meals.
They were here to learn how CPS gets its students excited about eating fresh produce. Fowler said it was a reciprocal visit after she visited France last year with a delegation to learn similar techniques.
She said the delegation started its school visits at Finkl Elementary in Little Village, where the students were encouraged to eat more potatoes.
“Today potato is our local fresh item and it was made into a potato salad,” Fowler said. “So the students were able to visit with the farmer and find out how potatoes are grown, how they are harvested and how they get to the schools. The [delegation] got a chance to taste the potato salad with the students and then we moved on to Lindblom.”
There they visited the high school’s outdoor garden and indoor hydroponic gardens, where Fowler says, “Students are actually growing their own produce and were able to serve it in the cafeteria as part of the school lunch meal.”
WBEZ caught up with Fowler as the delegation was traveling to Wisconsin to meet with an apple farmer and have dinner with other farmers whose crops make it to CPS trays.
The French are dropping in on school districts across the country that also belong to the Urban School Food Alliance. The six large districts share best practices and buying power, and Fowler says they’ve also been sharing recipes.
“What we are looking at is some cross ‘culturization’ of the program from France and our six districts,” she said noting that some of the salad recipes being served in CPS this month are from France.
On the topic of recipes, I asked if Fowler if she ever planned to modify the CPS policy that forbids the use of salt in any meal prepared at school, including fresh vegetables. Students have told me that a few crystals of salt could do a lot to improve CPS steamed broccoli and zucchini.
Her answer: “No,” she said, noting that the policy was passed by the board before she arrived but, “It’s a process we’ve continued since then. And kids are learning the taste of food without salt. There are some things that we could probably do better with sodium but in terms of the fresh vegetables I don’t think there is a lot that we could be adding to that anyway.”
Critics note that serving unsalted vegetables next to nachos, breaded chicken patties and cheeseburgers might give the salty processed food an unfair advantage over the fresh. I mentioned to Fowler that even former White House chef and Let’s Move director Sam Kass told WBEZ CPS should put a little salt on the broccoli. But Fowler held firm.
“No, the kids really enjoyed the potato salad today and that was without added salt,” she said. “It was actually a fan favorite. And when a child tells us it’s something they like we don’t see a reason to mess with it.”