One goal, two voices

Two women with the same goal come together to share their points of view.

School foodservice operators might consider Ann Cooper and Janey Thornton to be polar opposites. They’d call Thornton, deputy undersecretary at the U.S. Department of Agriculture and a former school foodservice director, the traditionalist, working the system and trying to effect change from within. By contrast, Cooper—nutrition services director for the Boulder Valley (Colo.) School District—is the rebel, coming in from the outside and trying to buck the system.

But they do share two traits. They have passion for school foodservice and they are impatient. Both traits were exhibited earlier this month when the two women shared a panel at the Child Nutrition & Industry Conference, staged by the School Nutrition Association in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.

After presentations by Jean Ronnei, foodservice director for St. Paul, Minn., Schools, and Jody Houston, foodservice director for the Corpus Christi (Texas) Independent School District, Cooper took the stage. The former restaurant chef and now self-styled “renegade lunch lady” began by calling school foodservice “the social justice issue of our time.” She railed against phased in approaches—“reduce sodium over three years? Do it tomorrow!”—lamented failure—“every day, it’s not good enough”—and questioned operators’ commitment to quality foodservice—“Why is it so hard what we do?”

She talked about offering resources to school foodservice operators through her Web site, lunchbox.com. “I want to create an online community for every person in America who cares about school food, built on the model of Facebook,” she explained.

Thornton, the former SNA president who joined USDA last year, followed. She wasted little time expressing her own frustration at government bureaucracy, saying that federal officials “are well-intentioned but don’t really understand how things work at the local level. And she acknowledged her own impatience: “I want everything to happen tomorrow—yesterday, actually.”

Thornton called on foodservice directors to petition their states’ legislators to mandate closed campuses. “Closed campuses would help,” she suggested. “During the school day students need to be in school learning, and learning what to eat.”

She blamed “society as a whole” for the obesity epidemic and called on SNA members to become community leaders in the fight for healthier eating habits. But she admitted that it’s going to be an uphill battle.

“There is a greater need for our programs than ever before,” she said, “but also more demands on our programs and fewer resources.”

However, she also noted that there is no substitute for food that appeals to customers. “We can legislate until we’re blue in the face what goes on a child’s plate, but we cannot legislate what goes in a child’s mouth.”

For both women, the need to improve school foodservice is paramount. For Ann Cooper to mount the kind of support she suggests is necessary to do so, she is going to have to integrate herself into the very system she is fighting against. She took one step in that direction by becoming a member of SNA. The next step is to become part of the team, rather than continuing to be the rebel. One of her closing comments was, “I want to help you celebrate the wonderful things you’re doing.” She’ll need to alter that sentiment to “I want us to celebrate the wonderful things we’re doing.”

For Janey Thornton to be successful, she’s going to have to make her fellow bureaucrats see school foodservice from the local level. And that’s going to take more grass-roots effort from her former colleagues.

Two women with one goal, approaching from two sharply different angles. Military commanders will tell you that an attack from two fronts can be very successful—if you have the troops and right strategy.

More From FoodService Director

Industry News & Opinion

This semester, the East Quad dining team at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor is taking steps to offer more authentic global cuisine , Michigan Daily reports.

The team has partnered with the Office of Student Life to start a conversation with students on how best to create and serve Middle Eastern and North African cuisine. Additionally, the university invited chefs from Japan and India to campus to help its chefs create more authentic recipes.

The school’s push for more accurate global cuisine was partially inspired by an international food event that got cancelled...

Industry News & Opinion
Madison food truck

The Madison Metropolitan School District in Madison, Wis., has partnered with a local organization to debut a food truck that will serve healthy, locally sourced lunch options for Madison high school students, according to The Capital Times .

The truck, which was donated by the Emmi Roth Cheese Co., will visit four high schools Tuesday through Friday, spending a day at each campus. Students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch can use the food truck as they would the school cafeteria for no-cost or discounted meals.

Members of MMSD and partner organization REAP Food...

Industry News & Opinion

Identifying prospective employees may be less challenging for foodservice operators than getting would-be recruits to complete the hiring process , according to a new study of why job applicants bail.

The report shows that nearly three out of fours applicants (74%) will drop their effort to be hired if they suspect management is racist, and two out of three (62%) will flee if they learn of sexual harassment allegations. Roughly the same proportion (65%) will halt their pursuit if they encounter indications of a gender gap in pay.

About half (45%) of candidates won’t show...

Menu Development
zoodles

Here’s how two operations are spotlighting produce this season.

Oodles of zoodles

Binghamton University underscored its growing focus on plant-based options with a recent zoodle pop-up on campus. The pop-up, which served vegetable noodle bowls in vegan and vegetarian varieties, sold out of the dishes in four hours. The Binghamton, N.Y., school aims to add zoodles to its regular menu in the fall.

A buffet boost

The dining team at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, recently re-evaluated its buffet offerings with an eye toward adding healthy options. It updated the fruit and...

FSD Resources