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Posts Tagged ‘school lunch’

Photo: David L. Ryan/Boston Globe.
First-graders line up for lunch at McAuliffe Elementary School in Lowell.

The city of Lowell, Massachusetts, has been a “gateway city” at least since the Industrial Revolution. Located on two rivers that powered the early textile factories, it has attracted waves of immigrant workers looking for a foothold, or gateway, to America. Today its many nationalities continue to generate a multicultural energy.

Peggy Hernandez writes at the Boston Globe, “One day last fall, Umalkheeyr Cabdi Mahamed, 17, rose at 3 a.m. to make breakfast for her US history seminar at Lowell High School. The junior wanted to share canjeero iyo suugo, a spiced chicken stew with sweet thin pancakes, her mother’s favorite dish and a reminder of the home she left behind in Somaliland.

“Umalkheeyr was cooking out of more than goodwill; her dish was being sampled for this year’s edition of Tasting History, the seminar’s cookbook. She and her classmates — English learners and almost all immigrants — ultimately contributed 59 family recipes and stories about their journeys to the cookbook.

“Now in its fourth year, the Tasting History project has accomplished more than envisioned. In December, the 2020-2021 edition earned a Founders Award from The Readable Feast, an annual New England culinary book festival. That win led to a trial collaboration between the students and Lowell Public Schools Food and Nutrition Services.

Once a month, one recipe has been served as a lunchtime entree option to a student body of 14,387. The students are now teaching the adults.

” ‘I want people to know our culture because we have a lot of cultural diversity here in the United States. If you share your food, your culture, your experience, you’ll introduce them to your country,’ says senior Samantha Segura Marroquin of Guatemala, 19, who last year submitted a Christmas tamale recipe. …

“The trial [has] been a success, and the collaboration will continue in the fall. Some dishes were so popular Michael Emmons, the food service’s executive chef, hopes to include them into a regular lunch rotation. Dishes like lok lak, a glossy peppered beef served with salad from Cambodia, and feijoada, an inky black bean and pork stew served with white rice from Brazil.

“Lowell Public Schools is an ideal setting for this partnership. The student body is diverse: Hispanic (37.7 percent), Asian (27.5 percent), White (22.9 percent), Black (7.7 percent) and multi-race (4.1 percent). At least 50 languages are spoken in the high school. The four cookbooks reflect that range: 42 countries and one autonomous region are represented.

“The cookbooks are the brainchild of Jessica Lander, 34, a creative English Language history and civics teacher. … Lander arrived at Lowell High School in 2015 and, two years later, came up with the cookbook project while leading her ‘U.S. History 2 Seminar.’ The course covers the 1870s to the present, encompassing an era when 20 million immigrants arrived in the United States.

“While teaching immigration history, Lander recognized her students are, themselves, experts on being immigrants. She developed the cookbook as a means ‘to honor their stories and show their stories are valuable, just as important’ as those in US history books. ‘I wanted to use food as a story of migration,’ she says.

“Sometimes students have had to call relatives in their native countries for help with recipes. They learn to explain cooking techniques as well as ingredients others might find unfamiliar. Family tales introduce each dish. Edits go 15-20 rounds. Dishes are prepared at home and shared with the class. …

“When Alysia Spooner-Gomez, the district’s food service director, learned about the win last winter, she urged Emmons to tap into the cookbook because, she says, ‘it would be a waste to do nothing.’

“Emmons, known as ‘Chef Mike’ to students and faculty, joined the district last fall after a stint as a sous chef for Google in California. He was eager to pay homage to the students’ recipes. ‘We wanted to be culturally responsive and take a step into another world,’ he says.

“Once a recipe is selected, Emmons adapts it for scale and financial practicality. Then he takes it to Lander’s class for taste tests. The students are quick to tell Emmons if his early versions fail their expectations. ‘Letting the kids have a voice in the meal is the most rewarding part of this project,’ he says

“Spooner-Gomez prepares in-house marketing with fliers about the student and their dish then shares background on the meals with faculty. Lunch, like breakfast, is free of charge in Lowell’s public schools through a federal program for low-income districts.

“Lander’s students are awed by the results. ‘I’m so excited that a lot of people like it,’ says junior Nempisey Pout, 18, who submitted a lok lak recipe. ‘The important thing is that I share my culture and Khmer food with students from other countries.’

More at the Globe, here.

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Some school districts are pushing the envelope on recycling.

Michael Wines wrote for the NY Times in December, “Nothing seemed special about the plates from which students at a handful of Miami schools devoured their meals for a few weeks last spring — round, rigid and colorless, with four compartments for food and a fifth in the center for a carton of milk.

“Looks, however, can be deceiving: They were the vanguard of what could become an environmental revolution in schools across the United States.

“With any uneaten food, the plates, made from sugar cane, can be thrown away and turned into a product prized by gardeners and farmers everywhere: compost. If all goes as planned, compostable plates will replace plastic foam lunch trays by September not just for the 345,000 students in the Miami-Dade County school system, but also for more than 2.6 million others nationwide.

“That would be some 271 million plates a year, replacing enough foam trays to create a stack of plastic several hundred miles tall. …

“Compostable plates are but the first initiative on the environmental checklist of the Urban School Food Alliance, a pioneering attempt by six big-city school systems to create new markets for sustainable food and lunchroom supplies.” More here.

Apart from what the initiative does for school budgets, what it does for the environment, just think how educators are setting an example for children about working to find solutions to problems. Impressive.

Photo: Joshua Bright for The New York Times
Kindergartners in Manhattan being served lunch on plates made from sugar cane, which are expected to replace plastic foam trays next year in six districts.

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