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Should the Lodi Unified School District hire an executive chef to lead the healthy food campaign?

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Posted: Saturday, March 31, 2012 12:00 am | Updated: 7:20 am, Sat Mar 31, 2012.

The Lodi Unified School District is still writhing through an ugly budget mess. So what's this about spending $132,000 on an executive chef? Isn't that enough to make you choke?

We thought Lodi Unified was running school cafeterias, not Taverns on the Green.

The proposal came from Warren Sun, Lodi Unified's director of food services. Sun gave trustees an update on food services this week, with some impressive accomplishments: Lodi Unified serves about 10,000 breakfasts and 20,000 lunches each day, he reported. In a few months, there will be a pilot program testing a late afternoon supper for students at selected afterschool sites, too.

There's a push toward fresher, healthier food, he noted, with more salad bars and fewer burgers and fries. More than 50 percent of the fresh fruits served are now local and organic.

Over 90 percent of food services staff are certified food handlers, Mr. Sun said.

So Lodi Unified's food services is pushing more greens and fewer greasies.

Even so: Why do we need an executive chef?

We had a good conversation with Sun, who holds both bachelor's and master's degrees in food science from Fresno State. Even from a short conversation, it was clear he is not a guy who just wants to push out tons of tamale pie and go home for the day.

During his college days, he worked as a server in a Chinese restaurant in Fresno. That taught him something, he said, about customer service. Later, he had a choice to work in food service for a hospital or a school district.

"I thought about providing food in a hospital, where people are being treated for illness, or working in a school, and trying to provide meals that might help avoid illness," he said. "I decided to go for the school."

The district now is foraging through local growers for healthful edibles, he said. In the last couple of weeks, he said students enjoyed kiwis, heirloom tomatoes and cherry tomatos from local farms. Some of these foods can be expensive, he said, and out of range of many district families.

But many of the major markets only buy big fruits and veggies. For the children of Lodi Unified, small is better, and growers are often willing to part with the undersized specimens for pennies on the dollar.

Sun wants students to avoid the ravages of childhood obesity, which often morph into adult-onset diabetes and heart disease.

And he feels it is not enough to offer them more heathful choices. He wants to provide education, so students carry the lessons of good nutrition forward during their lives.

"We are an educational community, so why not educate about nutrition?," he asked.

Sun, it seems, is at the edge of a revolution toward lower-fat, plant-based diet planning. It is quietly seeping into grocery stores and even fast food outlets across America. McDonald's now offers oatmeal and three kinds of salads along with Big Macs and those addictive fries.

And what was the summation of esteemed author and foodie Michael Pollan? "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."

So things are changing (not that we don't enjoy our occasional ribeye; we do) and that's probably for the best.

Sun's vision is for the executive chef to lead the next phase of this movement. He or she would expand the network of local food sources. They'd design menus that are even more tasty and nutritious. Moreover, they'd act as a sort of health-wise guru to the district's cafeteria staff. He or she might also design outreach programs for the district, helping nourish not just students, but entire families though better meal planning.

Here's a kicker: The money to pay Lodi Unified's top chef would come largely from federal, not state, dollars.

"The money, we believe, would be there. We could get it. So why shouldn't we go after it and help improve our program?" Mr. Sun asked.

Well, that doesn't seem like an unreasonable question. We're impressed with Mr. Sun and glad he's leading our children — and maybe all of us — to a healthier future. He's well-informed and well-intentioned.

Still, with the fiscal storm clouds swirling, should trustees spend big bucks on a top chef?

Truthfully, we're still chewing that one over.

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Welcome to the discussion.


  • Joanne Bobin posted at 9:51 am on Mon, Apr 16, 2012.

    Joanne Bobin Posts: 4488

    Good comments, especially Mr. Bitz and Ms. Parigoris.

    This mentality of "spend it or lose it" is prolific in government. When budgets are reviewed each year, if all the money isn't spent, the budget for the next year gets cut, so there is always a rush to spend toward the end of each fiscal year.

    That needs to stop. Just because federal funds are available for a "chef," doesn't mean we need one. What about Mr. Sun? He has a graduate degree in food service. Why can't he provide the same expertise that a "chef" would provide?

  • Kim Parigoris posted at 8:30 am on Wed, Apr 11, 2012.

    Kim Parigoris Posts: 470

    Can people please get it through their heads that Grant money- whether it be Federal or State- is TAXPAYER DOLLARS?? This money does NOT grow on a money tree..it is taxpayer dollars- the government DOES NOT generate revenue on its own- it is all on the bakcs of the American Taxpayer, so we need to not just flaunt this money like it is Monopoly money. There seems to be an extreme disconnect with this concept..

  • Darrell Baumbach posted at 3:01 am on Tue, Apr 3, 2012.

    Darrell Baumbach Posts: 9405

    It does seem like more and more people are looking to the Federal government for its bailouts and ability to make it financially.

    Seniors are dependent on Social Security (Federal governemnt )to get by. I still remember Obama telling the seniors that he couldn't guarantee their next check if the republicans did not cooperate. Its that kind kind of dependency that I am afraid of.

    Without the feds... no chef for the Lodi schools... the government is our savior.

  • roy bitz posted at 9:56 am on Mon, Apr 2, 2012.

    roy bitz Posts: 503

    Mr.Sun says there is federal money available that could be used by LUSD to hire an executive chef and asks --- why shouldn't we try to get this money?
    He is not saying LUSD is in need of a highly compensated executive chef-- he seems to be saying we should try to get this federal money and use it before some other entity does. This mind set is what drives me crazy.
    I do not fault Mr.Sun for doing his job and competing for federal funding to enhance LUSD food services. I just wonder how much is enough.
    I recall reading a previous LNS Interview with Mr.Sun regarding the district's FREE breakfast program. The concept here is by providing an upscale FREE breakfast to all district students, more students would purchase lunch, and qualify the district for even more federal funding.

  • robertz hurd posted at 4:19 am on Sat, Mar 31, 2012.

    robertzhurd Posts: 1

    Amazing! I feel almost normal with this Prilosec. But if I ever forget to take it boy do I get reminded if you are like me and need a solution i would recommend the place "Official Samples" to get free sample of prilosec.


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