Between greasy mystery meat and vending machine candy, most school cafeterias don't have a reputation for wholesome food. But if chef Ann Cooper has her way, that's going to change. A leading advocate for school food reform, Cooper is known as the "Renegade Lunch Lady," and she's helping schools nationwide ditch the French fries in favor of farm-fresh meals.
Cooper, who began her career in fancy white-table restaurants, has worked to reform school lunch programs in New York, California, and Colorado for more than a decade. With her nonprofit organization, the Food, Family, Farming Foundation, she teaches schools across the country how to transition any meal program from processed foods to nutritious local ingredients. Here, Cooper discusses "fake" foods, the importance of cooking from scratch, and why seafood boycotts are a bad idea.
What do you say when people ask you, "What do you do?"
I'm a chef who has three day jobs. I am the director of nutrition services for Boulder Valley School District, the founder of the Food, Family, Farming Foundation, and a partner in the consulting firm Lunch Lessons LLC.
What new idea or innovation is having the most significant impact on school lunch programs?