Oakland Tribune: School lunches, revamped: Food service employees meet in Oakland to share ideas, recipes

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September 25th, 2012
By Katy Murphy

Donna Irby has worked behind the cafeteria lines for 13 years, serving meals at dozens of Oakland schools. But only recently has she been able to do what she loves with any regularity: cook food from scratch.

Those were the kind of lunches she remembered from her school days, before school districts shifted to prepackaged, processed fare that could be bought and served cheaply, without a working kitchen.

Now, despite their shoestring budgets and countless other obstacles, Oakland and many other California school districts are working to bring more cooking back to the cafeteria -- this time, with an emphasis on local, seasonal produce and flavors from different regions of the world.

"This is the direction we need to go and, like I say, this is a long time coming," Irby said.

On Monday, food service employees from 21 counties statewide, including Alameda, San Mateo, San Francisco and Marin, shared ideas and recipes at a two-day conference, "Rethinking School Lunch," organized by the Berkeley-based Center for Ecoliteracy. The conference, held at the Oakland Museum of California, is covering everything from innovative ways to buy local food for school meals to the nutritional benefits of scratch cooking.

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