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

Two chefs at Whitworth University in Spokane, Wash., are trying to help solve the Mars food dilemma, myfoxspokane.com reports .

Just outside the school’s cafeteria, Executive Chef Timothy Grayson and his partner, Christine Logan-Travis, are trying their hand at growing tomatoes, oregano, basil and other plants in Martian Regolith Soil, the closest soil on Earth to that found on the fourth planet from the sun.

All of the plants in the Mars-inspired garden are intended for human consumption.

“It is a reality that at some point, if man goes to Mars, they will need to...

Industry News & Opinion

Access to fresh produce just got easier for students at the University of Virginia.

The Charlottesville, Va., university’s dining service has partnered with Greens to Grounds , a student-run nonprofit organization that delivers locally grown produce to students. Though students could previously purchase Greens to Grounds produce, they can now use a portion of their meal plans to do so, thecavalier.com reports .

Students can choose between a snack box or produce box, the ingredients in which usually require no cooking, and can place their orders online. The base boxes cost...

Industry News & Opinion

The Virginia Department of Health said it has traced a “cluster” of hepatitis A cases to frozen Egyptian strawberries used by Virginia units of a smoothie chain.

Tropical Smoothie Cafe voluntarily trashed the strawberries and switched to supplies from a different source immediately after being notified of the connection, the health department said in a statement issued Friday.

The department noted that it had traced earlier outbreaks of hepatitis A to strawberries imported from Egypt. But it warned that supplies may still be in the freezers of other foodservice operations...

Managing Your Business
business man smash computer

Foodservice directors spend a lot of time taking care of other people, whether it’s K-12 students who aren’t always eating enough at home, malnourished patients back for return visits or employees squabbling among themselves. That kind of pressure can weigh heavily—and come home from work. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America finds that 83% of men and 72% of women say stress at work carries over into their personal lives, and 50% call staff management their main culprit for workplace stress.

“Stress is very difficult in our world, and work-life balance is very much a...

FSD Resources