Measure J

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Oakland Schools Hope for Kitchen Upgrades If Measure J Approved

By Katharine Mieskowski, Bay Citizen

Public schools in Oakland are looking for major kitchen remodeling with a measure on the November ballot.

If approved, Measure J would authorize the Oakland Unified School District to issue up $475 million in bonds to improve school facilities.

Along with seismic upgrades and lead-paint removal, the bonds could help underwrite a planned overhaul of kitchen facilities in the district, including building a new central kitchen in West Oakland. It’s part of an ongoing effort to improve the food the district serves to students, some 70 percent of whom are eligible for free or reduced-priced meals.

Oakland has made strides toward serving healthier and fresher food in recent years. For instance, the district now buys more fresh fruits and vegetables from within 250 miles of Oakland. There are salad bars at 67 schools.

But it’s infrastructure, not ingredients, that’s become the biggest barrier to making lunches healthier and tastier. Many schools have antiquated kitchens — if they have a kitchen at all.

“It’s a very attractive museum of kitchen dinosaurs,” said Zenobia Barlow, executive director of the Center for Ecoliteracy, a nonprofit advocacy group.

The facilities limit what food can be served.

“A lot of what is served is processed and prepackaged and frozen,” said Ruth Woodruff, who has a first-grader and a fourth-grader attending Chabot Elementary School. “It gets unwrapped and put on trays and heated.” Continue reading