The Experience of Food: An Interview with Mr. Bertrand Weber, Director of Nutrition for Minneapolis Public Schools
MINNEAPOLIS (Oct. 2, 2015) — This month BALL’s “Tales from the Garden” features a unique success at our local Schools: How is FOOD becoming a wholesome experience for our students? In August, “America’s schools make positive changes to create healthier school meals,” publicized by CDC, stating:
“School meals are healthier now than ever before. We’ve made real progress, but there is much more to do to help American children make food choices that will keep them healthy throughout their lives,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H.
• Almost all schools offered whole grains each day for breakfast (97.2 percent) and lunch (94.4 percent).
• Most schools offered two or more vegetables ((79.4 percent, up from 61.7 percent in 2000) and two or more fruits (78.0 percent, up from 68.1 percent in 2000) each day for lunch.
• Most schools offered two or more vegetables.
• Nearly one-third (30.5 percent) of schools offered self-serve salad bars.
• More than half of schools that prepared their meals at the school used fresh or frozen vegetables instead of canned (54.1 percent), used low-sodium canned vegetables instead of regular canned vegetables (51.8 percent, up from 10.3 percent in 2000), used other seasonings instead of salt (65.1 percent up from 32.8 percent in 2000), and reduced the amount of sodium called for in recipes or used low-sodium recipes (68.0 percent up from 34.1 percent in 2000)
Like CDC, Minneapolis Public Schools believes there is more to be done, and they are doing it! 10,000 pounds of farm to school produce have already been served in our school meals this year. Farmers have planted 14 crops specifically just for MPS, one of which planted 29,000 pounds of carrots. MPS serves about 35,000 students each day.
“Food is an experience,” says Bertrand Weber, Director of Nutrition for Minneapolis Public Schools, Bertrand explained his philosophy about food: clean, good, wholesome, and tasteful food. “The approach is to enjoy good food, and actually celebrating it – Food in its purest form.” He doesn’t believe just focusing on “healthy” food, instead focusing on providing good and wholesome food, and allowing the experiences to balance out each other, for example, eating a chocolate cookie in its richness, and balancing with choices from the salad bar. “Eating food isn’t just about eating healthy or just focusing on eating to be healthy. It’s about the experience of food.” Bertrand believes in re-building the family and food experience together. “We saw the effects at the high school when we first started making the shift. The students are now sitting down to eat. When it was all pre-packaged they would throw it around, walk around and eat, etc. Now they fill up their plates with salad, and the other foods and sit down to eat and actually enjoy their food/meal.”
For Minneapolis Public School, there are 3 major ingredients for their success:
1. Localized Food. Bertrand and MPS team work with local farmers for the procurement of fresh poultry that are raised without antibiotics support the local economy and are raised in a sustainable way.
They have worked with the Hmong American Farmers Association for the past three years. This year, they are growing cauliflower to be featured in a roasted cauliflower side dish. They conduct student led taste tests three times a year, and their last, a beet hummus recipe inspired by MPS’ True Food Chef Council partner – Wise Acre Eatery, and it was a huge hit! Bertrand and his team used beets from the local partner – L&R Poultry and Produce to make what the kids renamed, “UnBEETable Hummus” and it’s now served in school salad bars. In addition, they have worked with a turkey farmer in Cannon Falls, MN called Ferndale Market, so most of their turkey is now free-range, antibiotic and hormone free meat from just 30 miles away.
2. Cultural Food. MPS has put in a lot of effort in not just providing hot meals, but cultural meals. “It is an important part of who we are. The experience of food affects our attitude towards it as well as who we are because of it.” Bertrand follows, “Understanding what we are eating so we might either avoid or seek more, in addition to having foods that reflect our own cultures is part of the food experience.“ This year, MPS is building more kitchens in the cafeterias as they seek to integrate more cultural foods that reflect their student body. Bertrand is looking to partner with multiple chefs to create, once a month, a cultural meal that can be experienced, not just served. In the meantime, Bertrand holds a taste test three times a year over a period of three days, in which around 20,000 students participate. The Organic Grocery Store chain -Wedge sponsors and assists with preparations. The last taste test was roasted beet hummus, as indicated above. Then there is a naming contest to rename the item. In this case it became “Unbeatable Hummus”. A new item is introduced to the menu every year.
3. Better Education on Food. For Minneapolis Public School, Food is not just food, but an important part of socialization, interaction and relationships. “It is an important part of who we are. While we celebrate the new changes in the cafeterias of MPS, along with educational effort when student is to seek out something they were introduced to but unsure of what it was. If we are to provide nutrition food, we also need to provide education about what it is for those who are unfamiliar with the western menu.”
Bertrand and MPS in efforts such as labeling the foods for immigrant students who can’t identify and recognize the food they are eating, as well as asking the staff to talk with the students about the food they are serving. “Overall, we are seeking to improve every student’s food vocabulary, as they are no longer grocery shopping with their parents to learn these foods, farming to learn these foods, nor cooking with their parents to learn these foods. Due to the busier and busier modern lifestyle, preparing meal together as a family is becoming luxury.“ MPS seeks to fill in the gaps by providing more “home cooked meals,” and education surrounding good food.
The Nutrition Department of Minneapolis Public Schools gets it. And we get it too. With our BALL Equity Campaign, AMA will collaborate with the MPS to work on Fresh Fruit to School pilot, with our Everyday is Fruity Day campaign developed by our high school youth in which using creative fruit characters to promote more consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables as well as the acceptance of self body image. It has been proven, people have a relationship with food and relationships are built around food, then many at risk behaviors can be changed. As Bertrand would say – food is an experience. We look forward to the opportunity to partner in creating an inclusive and holistic experience for everyone seated at the table.