Image: Sean McCormick
Tony Geraci, the food-service director for Baltimore’s public schools, doesn’t look like a reformer. He’s no nutritionist or lunch lady. He’s a stocky, blunt guy who grew up in the projects of New Orleans—“I know what welfare cheese tastes like”—and faced weight problems and diabetes. He owned and operated six successful restaurants before working as a food broker for 14 years. He was a professional race-car driver. Yet Geraci, 52, is one of several go-ahead national leaders whose names always come up at conferences on childhood obesity and school nutrition when charismatic dreamers have been dismissed and everyone is in despair over how to get children, especially poor children, to eat better food.
It’s his business experience, Geraci told me when I recently met him, that helps him push through the kinds of changes he made, and made fast, as soon as he got to Baltimore last summer.
Vending machines? They were already out of all but the high schools, and he “got rid of the crap food” in the ones that were left. “You’re in charge of what’s in them,” he said, to my surprise, as so many of his colleagues had told me that schools are addicted to their share of the profits. All it takes, he said, is the backing of the school board and its “wellness policy,” which every district must now write to get federal meals funding. Geraci redirected the profits away from the principals and coaches who generally get them and toward food programs—something he highly recommends, even if it takes some wrestling.