Growing up, I ate school lunch at my rural public school every single day. The head cook at Hamlow Elementary, Mrs. Hummel, was as sweet as her famous cinnamon rolls. She was like everyone’s grandmother, and she wanted each one of “her kids” to eat, and eat well! I remember taking a tour of Mrs. Hummel’s kitchen at the school and being amazed at the massive refrigerators, ovens, and stoves it took to prepare meals for all 600 or so of Mrs. Hummel’s kids.
Earlier this week, I was once again blown away by the enormity of school food operations, this time in my new home of Los Angeles. The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) provides 650,000 meals to kids each day—yes, a thousand times more than Mrs. Hummel’s impressive kitchen—making it the largest unified provider of school food in the country, and a big player in the market for food products.
On November 13, 2012, the LAUSD Governing Board unanimously adopted the Good Food Purchasing Policy, which encourages food providers to take a holistic look at the type of food they purchase and serve. The sheer size of LAUSD’s school meals program means that their purchasing decisions have a significant effect on the market for food products.
The Good Food Purchasing Policy encourages food providers, such as LAUSD, to purchase products that reflect the following value categories:
- Local Economies – Support small and mid-sized agricultural and food processing operations within the local area or region.
- Environmental Sustainability – Source from producers that employ sustainable production systems that reduce or eliminate synthetic pesticides and fertilizers; avoid the use of hormones, antibiotics, and genetic engineering; conserve soil and water; protect and enhance wildlife habitat and biodiversity; and reduce on-farm energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.
- Valued Workforce – Provide safe and healthy working conditions and fair compensation for all food chain workers and producers from production to consumption.
- Animal Welfare – Provide healthy and humane care for livestock.
- Nutrition – Promote health and well-being by offering generous portions of vegetables, fruit, and whole grains; reducing salt, added sugars, fats, and oils; and eliminating artificial additives.
LAUSD’s decision sends a signal that food suppliers who reflect the values incorporated in the Good Food Purchasing Policy will be rewarded with the business of major buyers like LAUSD.
The Good Food Purchasing guidelines were developed by the Los Angeles Food Policy Council, which is a collaborative network of farmers, business leaders, hunger and nutrition advocates, labor groups, and environmental organizations. NRDC is pleased to have contributed to the crafting of these groundbreaking criteria.
The Good Food Purchasing Policy is a tiered system, which is similar to the successful LEED system for green buildings. Food service providers earn points for purchasing food that reflects the values in the Good Food Purchasing Policy. Points are accumulated by purchasing higher percentage of “good” food. This tiered system is designed to allow institutions that are just beginning to think about Good Food values to participate. But it also recognizes and rewards leaders on food issues.
LAUSD’s adoption of the Good Food Purchasing Policy follows on the heels of the Los Angeles City Council’s approval of these criteria, and a directive from Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa urging that the Policy be used in purchasing decisions by the city.
By adopting the Good Food Purchasing Policy, these institutions have committed to rewarding farmers who are not only producing delicious food, but are protecting our air, water, and other natural resources in the process. Congratulations to LAUSD, the Los Angeles City Council, Mayor Villaraigosa, and the L.A. Food Policy Council for taking an important step toward creating a food system that is sustainable, fair, affordable, healthy, and good!