Pizza, tater tots, sloppy joes, and other high-fat processed foods have filled school lunch trays since long before Chris Farley and Adam Sandler celebrated lunch ladies on Saturday Night Live in the '90s.
Recognizing the gap between school lunches and good eating in the 21st century, activists across the country have been pushing for better meals at schools. Locally, that push has gained steam thanks to FnB's Charleen Badman and a group of 35 other Valley chefs.
The coalition includes Chris Bianco, Aaron Chamberlin, Sacha Levine, and Tracy Dempsey, working as an arm of Slow Food Phoenix. The goal is to make school lunches better — and healthier — for kids by holding culinary demonstrations, promoting gardening, and cooking vegetables with kids that the students have grown themselves.
The group, unnamed as of now, is holding a fundraiser at The Farm at South Mountain on Sunday, October 22. Tickets are $79. Chefs will be riffing on and elevating lunch lady classics, like, oh yes, the sloppy joe.
This has been years in the making. Two Septembers ago, Badman attended a boot camp in Vermont put on by the James Beard Foundation. The subject was childhood nutrition. Katherine Miller ran the event.
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What Badman learned impressed her so much that she tapped Miller to give a condensed version of the boot camp here in the Valley. Over the course of one jammed April day, Miller delivered knowledge to 15 to 20 Valley chefs.
Since then, these chefs have been jazzed to change the way lunch is served in Valley schools. The group meets monthly and has snowballed.
Schools can do better. Badman points to the Osborn School District in central Phoenix, with its free lunch program and 60 percent from-scratch kitchen. She gets her hands dirty in the gardens of Echo Canyon School (formerly Arcadia Neighborhood Learning Center) in Scottsdale, raising peach trees and bean plants.
“October is farm-to-school month,” Badman says. “In addition to the fundraiser, we have subcommittees of chefs doing demos.” Those demos will be education-focused and, in the past, have included turning kohlrabi grown in school gardens into slaw, which Badman said kids devoured. Demos will occur at farmers markets and Echo Canyon. On every Wednesday in October, chefs from Badman’s group will be giving demos in the Osborn School District.