By Michelle Oppen, HOPE Steering Committee member and OUSD Wellness Coordinator
I recently came back from the National School Nutrition Association Conference in Salt Lake City, Utah. There are 2 primary elements of the conference—one focused on educational workshops (we were asked to present on OUSD’s Wellness Policy- yay!) and one being a large exhibit hall of vendors promoting their products for school districts to use as part of their school meal programs. This was my first time at this type of conference and I was truly overwhelmed by the school food exhibit hall.
I was overwhelmed by the pure size of the exhibit hall—with almost 400 vendors. I also could not believe the variety of offerings. Healthy ideas that I could definitely see in our cafeterias—sliced, baked pears and sweet potatoes sprinkled with cinnamon; simple vegetable and bean soups served with soft, whole grain rolls for dipping; a dish composed of rice noodles, broccoli and tofu with low-sodium soy sauce; and more.
And, then, there were other products—the re-engineered pizza with just enough tomato sauce to pass as a vegetable; the cookies and muffins with spinach and carrots (and manmade ingredients) hidden inside; the sugary drinks that aren’t quite as sugary as soda but pretty close; etc.
I walked away inspired by the innovative, real, healthy products being promoted and really hoped that school districts across the country gained new partnerships to improve the health of their populations. I also walked away a bit distraught at the complexity of our food system and the sheer number of processed foods and beverages we serve ourselves and our children in the United States on a daily basis at school, home and beyond.
As I continue to partner with OUSD’s Nutrition Services Department, I am so proud of the groundbreaking work they are doing to serve locally sourced, real food. I also am so impressed and proud to be a part of HOPE Collaborative’s food system work for the City of Oakland, focused on corner store improvements and the development of Last Mile Foods. The City of Oakland will continue to lead the way in large and small food systems changes as we expand our work and tell others about it.