News from Terra Madre: Alice Waters wants to feed California’s kids


Henry Bendon, Staff Reporter

Alice Waters is a James Beard Foundation Award-winning chef, a political activist and vice president of Slow Food International who wants to feed the students of California. At the U.S. delegates meeting last Thursday, Waters laid out an ambitious plan to work with the incoming governor of California, which polls expect to be current Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom (Dem.), to offer every K-12 student in the state a free, healthy and sustainable school lunch. The plan is ambitious, but the benefits could be substantial.

The school lunch plan fits the goals of the Slow Food movement, whose focus on sustainability and globally responsible living includes a large emphasis on education. The statement on Slow Food International’s website explains the food side of the practice, saying that “[we] believe that by understanding where our food comes from, how it was produced and by whom, adults and children can learn how to combine pleasure and responsibility in daily choices and appreciate the cultural and social importance of food.”

Waters expanded on this message at the delegate meeting, describing the responsibility of members to focus on more holistic aspects of global improvement. Increasing the quality of education and expanding access would create a happier and healthier world, Waters explained, and she plans to start in her home state of California.

Switching to healthier lunch providers in the state of California cost $222 per student and correlated with a 4 percent increase in standardized test scores, according to University of California at Berkeley professor of economics Michael Anderson. For reference, a program in Tennessee designed specifically to improve student test scores earned around the same percentage increase at a cost of $1,368 a student and came with none of the additional benefits the lunch program provides.

Increased food security for low income students is also on the table. California, like every state, underutilized the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP), a federal program that allows schools with more than 40 percent of students eligible for free or reduced lunch to make free breakfast and lunch available to all students.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a progressive think tank in Washington D.C., explains that CEP “has been shown to improve student achievement, diets, and behavior, and to help reduce food insecurity and other poverty-related hardships among children in areas of concentrated poverty.”

Waters’ plan does not mention details or specific funding, but the principle of providing every student with lunch shares many of the values with the effective implementation of CEP and has the potential to be a model for improving public school achievement and battling childhood hunger.