Oakland struggles to improve school lunch program

High free and reduced rate makes implementing change difficult.

June 29—Over the past few years, Berkeley, Calif.’s school district has made national news with its school lunch improvements. Now, Berkeley’s neighbor Oakland is trying to get a food revolution going, too. The Oakland Unified School District serves about 6 and a half million meals per year. This volume makes the task of overhauling the school food system a daunting one. While Berkeley’s school district has 9,400 students, with about 40% qualifying for free or reduced lunch, Oakland Unified has 38,000 students, with over 70% qualifying. At some schools, this number is over 90%.

District-wide, Oakland schools serve about 9,000 breakfasts per day, 21,000 lunches, 8,500 snacks, and now 500 suppers. Given this high demand, Oakland’s school district recently undertook a study on how to improve its Nutrition Services department, responsible for school meals. The report, a partnership with the Center for Eco Literacy, recommends facilities improvements, fresher and more organic ingredients, and the construction of a large central commissary with an organic farm. In a district where many students eat up to five times a day at school, these are big issues.