Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver rolled into Sacramento once again Wednesday, kneeling in the dirt of the Pacific Elementary School garden as students shuffled around him to point out crops they’d planted with their own hands.
Oliver, formerly of Food Network’s The Naked Chef, joined Alice Waters of Berkeley’s Chez Panisse restaurant and Ann Cooper, international chef educator, to recognize the buffet of healthy eating efforts underway in Sacramento schools.
“This is at the front line of the fight against obesity,” Oliver said of the school garden. “Every school in the country should have a kitchen garden like this one.”
The trio of superstar chefs came together Wednesday afternoon to discuss the importance of healthy lunch choices and food education in schools. The event was a collaboration between the Jamie Oliver Food Foundation, California Endowment and Food Literacy Center.
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After a quick tour of the garden, one of four in the Sacramento City Unified School District, Oliver spoke to a packed house about his efforts to get more produce into schools nationwide, citing Americans’ poor diet as the cause of much of their illnesses. Last year, Oliver stopped in Sacramento on his Big Rig Teaching Kitchen Tour to offer free cooking classes to underserved students.
Before the luncheon Wednesday, a select group of Pacific Elementary students prepared a carrot-and-raisin citrus salad under Oliver’s supervision.
Jessie Ryan, a newly elected school board member, proudly announced that there are now salad bars in all 75 of the district’s schools. The district has also made headway the past few years in adding whole grains to school meals, reducing sugary drinks and keeping the total saturated fat content for all meals under 10 percent.
“We have a vision that every one of our schools boast a school garden,” she said. “So that each and every one of our kids can make that connection to their food.”
Children in after school programs work in the gardens once a week with instructors from the Food Literacy Center, a Sacramento-based nonprofit. They grow a variety of crops, including snow peas, beets, Swiss chard and celery, some of which is used for the after-school cooking lessons. Students also learn to sort food scraps for the garden’s compost bin.
Waters, founder of of the national Edible Schoolyard Project, said growing food in the garden helps children become more familiar with fruits and vegetables, and more likely to eat them.
“I just know that when children grow food themselves and they cook it, that they always eat it,” she said. “And I’m talking about kale and collard greens and things we assume children don’t love. On the contrary, they do.”
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