Authors@Google: Ann Cooper

Uploaded by AtGoogleTalks on 02.02.2010

>> Great, so welcome to this special edition of the "Authors at Google" series. Today we
are specifically focusing on the National School Lunch Program Reform and we have Ann
Cooper in conversation with our very own Olivia Wu here, and Ann Cooper is also known as the
"Renegade Lunch Lady". She is a chef, nutrition services director, consultant, author, public
speaker, and advocate for practical nutrition reform. And, did you know that our very own
chef, Olivia Wu, before becoming the Executive Chef at Oasis was actually a journalist? She
is a staff reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle. She is a food consultant and public
relations specialist. She specializes in Asian cuisine and culture and fusion cuisine, seafood
and sustainability and believe it or not, they were actually both roommates. So you
may remember that Alice Waters came here last year to share her vision for the delicious
food revolution and Ann Cooper's actually the person that Alice Waters and the Chez
Panisse Foundation helped hire to make that vision a reality so she helped eliminate nearly
all the processed foods that were served within the Berkley Unified School District. She introduced
fresh and organic foods into the daily menu and all while staying within the food district's
budget and then she has since moved to Boulder to keep spreading the change so please welcome
Chef Ann Cooper and Olivia Wu.
Olivia Wu: Welcome. It's an honor to have you here. You've been to Google many times
and we've sat around and talked so much about how your day went, what the kids ate and what
they didn't eat, and what your staff did so I hope to just replicate some of that and
there is a small enough group here that maybe everybody can come up to the fireside with
your questions. We have lots of questions for you in the next three hours but I'm just
going to kind of turn you on and let you talk [laughs] But you turned the food chain around
here at Berkeley and now you are at Boulder doing all of Boulder County. What are some
of the similarities? What are new challenges? What are the 'ah ha' moments that make you
go "This is what I've been able to do and I'll do it all again or this is new" so talk
to us about that.
Ann Cooper: Well, when I came to Berkeley, I came because Alice Waters asked me to come
and I had been doing this in New York and she said come to Berkeley. I had also had
been asked to go to Harlem and work in Harlem so I said yes to both and I was working half
time in Harlem and half time in Berkeley, commuting back and forth and trying to redo
some schools in New York City as well. And I didn't actually think I'd ever take over
the district. I thought I was just going to be a consultant but after being a consultant
for a year, I eventually took over the district and because Alice and her foundation had been
working here for ten years and also the Center for Equal Literacy, there was a real strong
movement in Berkeley to make change. However, the food was spectacularly bad. I mean, the
kids had a five day rotating cycle of chicken nuggets, extremo burritos, pizza pockets,
corn dogs, and grilled cheese sandwiches, all preprocessed, all prepared, all in plastic
and that's what the kids ate and so you'd think Alice, Berkeley, you know, there's a
real disconnect but that's the kind of food we had. It took four years and it was a real
hard process and even though we had a lot of parent's support in some areas, we had
a lot of push back in others and we had a tremendous amount of push back from the kids
but you know, it was a process and it took four years but Berkeley was small. It was
sixteen schools, 9,600 kids, and I could actually go to every school in one day. I had this
huge support system, both financial and resources. The foundation raised a million and a half
dollars over the time I was there to help the school district make the change, then
now the school's districts nutrition services is totally budget neutral and financially
viable, sustainable, systemic and all now but it took a long time. I also had a superintendent
in the school board who are very supportive and superintendent who basically stood in
front of me and said, you know, and protected me and said, "We are going to make these changes,
it's going to be painful, it's going to work." So when I get asked, I get recruited to go
to Boulder in a sort of very similar community and they said, "Yeah! We've got all this parent
support and we've got a community that's going to support us. We've done this great survey
and everyone really wants this." And the superintendent in the school board was like, "Yeah, yeah.
Everybody's ready and we're going to do this." And so I took the job there. It's much bigger.
It's 48 schools spread over 550 square miles. I have a 175 employees and none of which,
or very few of which, were really motivated to make these kind of very difficult changes.
Even though they have surveyed the parents, most of the parents who answered the survey
I think were from Boulder proper but we, the district, encompasses ten communities and
literally 65 miles from one end of our district to the other. So even though the Boulder parents
thought this was really great and they raised half a million dollars and they were doing
all this great stuff, there was all these other parents and so I'm getting pushed, I've
been there since July and I'm getting pushed back like that, "I feed my kids chicken nuggets
at home. Who the hell are you to tell me not to? Why do you get to decide our kids can't
have chicken nuggets or tater tots or high fructose corn syrup or popsicles or Pop Tarts
or you know, candy, we use it." And then other challenges, the same Boulder parents who would
write checks of ten and twenty thousand dollars at the drop off a hat won't make their kids
eat the food, you know? Because their kids would rather have sushi or you know the kids
say, "I don't really want that, I want this. I want you to get me this." You know, so I'm
struggling with the same parents who want me there are the same parents who raised a
half million dollars to get this program off and running aren't actually having their kids
eat so we run in there believing that we could raise participation which is how you make
these programs sustainable and we've only been able to raise it five percent which is
just not enough. So, in some ways, you've either got the similar demographic but in
other ways, it's very different and it's so spread out it's really hard. I mean, I now
have five managers and they can't even get to every school every day so we try and get
to every school every other day now but it's a lot of transition work.
Olivia Wu: How many schools are we talking?
Ann Cooper: 48.
Olivia Wu: 48 schools?
Ann Cooper: Yeah.
Olivia Wu: Yeah, that's a lot. You're the most wired digital lady that I know. You have
so many toys so the obvious question for me is you know Google. We want to be involved
and we want to make a difference. What do we do? Do we find five hundred other anchor
boosts? Do we go in on the policy level? Do we help raise money? Do we help market? What
can we do?
Ann Cooper: There is so many things and I love that question because I need so much
help. You know, Berkeley or Boulder or any of the local communities you might have kids
in or know where kids are, we cannot fix this one school at a time. There is a 125,000 schools
in this country. We cannot fix it one school at a time. There is almost fifteen thousand
school districts. We can't even fix it one district at a time. It's impossible, we have
to change it at the USDA level. For the very first time in my whole career on school food,
I'm very optimistic and then we have a President who actually talked about kids and food and
health in the same sentence. The last President who talked about kids and food was Reagan
who made ketchup a vegetable so I'm very optimistic with Obama. We now have a First Lady who not
only planted a garden at the White House that I have been fortunate enough to go to but
has a great personal chef whose invested in this and now they have food policies, and
she has just announced to Council of Mayors that she is taking on, and even in President
Obama's State of the Union, they are taking on childhood obesity and she specifically
said in her speech to the mayors that what had to happen in schools. I've met with the
Deputy Secretary of Agriculture, Kathleen Merrigan, who used to be on the National Organic
Standards Board and I was on the National Organic Standards Board but I went on right
after her, and she is very interested in this stuff and I met with the Undersecretary that's
over School Lunch, Janey Thornton, and she's interested in making change.
I think the most optimistic thing or the thing that makes me most optimistic is Arne Duncan.
I haven't met with him but I've met with his staff and his staff said to me, "We can not
close the achievement gap in America unless we fix school lunch." So for the first time,
the Secretary of Ag and the Secretary of Education are actually talking about these two things
because the Secretary of Education is over education and the Secretary of Ag is over
school lunch so there's two very divergent things. From Google's point of view, there
is so much you can do to help. I mean, one of the things, any of you who are at lunch
or we could show later, one of the things that's happening right now is we are building
a web portal and these little bands that say "I Matter, Feed Me Well" also have the URL
for the web portal that we're building and we're trying to build a web portal that will
have all the tools that every school district in the country can use to make these changes.
It has menus and recipes and technical tools and videos and educational materials and a
big community piece sort of AKA Facebook where people can gather, so we are trying to build
this. We partnered this past summer with Whole Foods and we raised a million dollars to start
the process of building a portal, but one of the things I've come to understand which
is very interesting is I thought much of this up in my head and we've been struggling to
have the technology catch up to what we kind of thought of, and so we're struggling with
the technology to be able to build something that's actually can do all the things that
I think it needs to do and can be seen by people in schools who can't get onto Facebook,
who can't get onto Twitter, and who can't use YouTube or anything like that, so all
schools ban all of that material, so how do you have someplace where people can go that's
sort of outside of the social networking arena that we all play in because schools can't
play in it. The other thing around that I think, from a Google standpoint, we need,
you know, whether it's the Google phone or the iPhone, we need some apps that can build
in that smartphone universe that school people could like pull up recipes, that they could
get answers to questions right from their phone because many of them are out in the
field and they may not be able to get to their computers so that's another thing we're looking
at, like how do we develop that and what is it that we really want to develop around that.
The other thing is on February 8th, that the Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, is
going to make a speech and the speech is going to be taking about school lunch. Right after
the speech, my foundation is starting a national write-in campaign to get a million moms and
dads or parents or caregivers to write to Tom Vilsack and Kathleen Merrigan at the USDA
and the Senate and Representatives from Congress. We are actually putting up the website with
a map and you'll be able to click on the map and we've got a letter that you'll be able
to send in or customize the letter and send it in. Getting information like that out would
be really, really helpful so we are trying to have the stuff go viral. We've made an
animated video that we hope will help us. A 90 second video can be like a PSA, it can
be watched on smartphones or on computers and we are trying to get a bunch of stuff
going viral so this is the year of the child nutrition reauthorization that only happens
every four or five years. This is where the federal government decides how much money
they are going to give school and what the guidelines are. The money thing is really
important. Schools are now given $2,000.68 to feed a child for a day if it's a free child.
Of that, traditionally two thirds goes to payroll and overhead. That leaves us less
then a dollar a day to feed a kid and if any of you have been to Starbucks of late and
gotten a venti latte or any of the other exotic, you know, coffee shops, you'll know that you
are paying four or five dollars so you know we now have a world where we spend four or
five dollars more on our daily coffee then we are spending on our kid's lunch so the
dollar doesn't really get you enough but the USDA does decide that. Also the USDA guidelines
around chicken nuggets, tater tots, chocolate milk, high fructose corn syrup, transfat,
popsicles, Pop Tarts, and corn dogs, that is all allowed on the National School Lunch
Program so it's not enough just to get money. We absolutely have to get the guidelines changed.
Olivia Wu: Guidelines changed. Besides the grassroots letter writing and getting to Vilsack,
how can Google further--, with this?
Ann Cooper: Well, I think it'll be an interesting thing. I mean Google is sort of the center
of the, I mean from a Google outsider, someone who Googles on like a million times a day
regular basis, you know, if Google is the holder of information in the world, if any
bit of information you want or think you want can be gotten through Googling then that's
a way to collect information so I guess the question would be does Google want to push
information and if Google did want to push information, then it'd be really cool to be
able to, when people are Googling school lunch or people that are interested in some of these
things to be able to have a message or have specific sites that will support it. You know,
when you go on Google and you'll see those top ones and that's the ones that are sponsored
sites so maybe there is a way to sponser sites that are done by non-profits or sponsor sites
that are really pushing forward this mission. Something like that.
Olivia Wu: Yes, Sir?
>> We don't, put up the natural search results, we won't alter those because that has to be,
you know, fair and the better content of your site has, whatever site it is, then the higher
it'll interact in the rankings, but in terms of like the ads, we do offer Google Grants
Program to do that so I don't know if you guys have been taking part in that yet.
Ann Cooper: Uh uh. We haven't.
>> Great, so those advertisements are free and that Grants program is significant so
you should talk about that.
Ann Cooper: Cool. Great.
Olivia Wu: Excellent. Yeah. So once, tell me the sequence, the ideal sequence you see
things happening in, from policy down. How do you think it should happen? And then maybe
from out here, we'll have ideas on how Google fits in.
Ann Cooper: In a perfect world, and we know we're in such an imperfect world, the problem
with the USDA guidelines and the money is the USDA was founded to be the marketing arm
for agribusiness and their mission in the world, and it may be changing now, but their
mission historically has been to promote big agriculture and for the most part that big
agriculture exports to other countries so literally they are the marketing arm for Monsanto
and DuPont and ADM and all these big huge companies.
Olivia Wu: Chemical companies.
Ann Cooper: Chemical companies that have now decided that food companies and as well, you
know, Monsanto and DuPont produce Agent Orange and stain resistant carpet. They control 90%
of the commercially produced seeds in America, so this is a crazy paradigm, but as well they
also support a lot of companies through the commodity food program and our tax dollars
spend about 45 billion dollars a year subsidizing corn, soy, rice, wheat, and I think one other,
cotton, so the government buys all of the stuff and the reason why sugar is so cheap
is because corn is so highly subsidized and the reason we have high fructose corn syrup
in everything from hamburgers, to hamburgers to hot dogs to gum to soda is because the
corn is so overproduced and so cheap that now they make it into high fructose corn syrup
and so the USDA gets to decide what's allowed in the food. They buy this food, although
it's not actually food because none of that corn goes into high fructose syrup would ever
be eaten, so they buy the stuff and then subsidize to make this processed stuff that we send
into schools and to give you a perfect example of how awful the system is, a year ago January,
a year ago this month, for some reason Tyson decided they needed a bail out, so the USDA
bailed out Tyson for a 143 million dollars so they bought a 143 million dollars worth
of chicken from Tyson while there may not even have been chicken but there is the virtual
chicken. There is the idea that they needed money so the government gave them the money
in exchange for chicken. So then Tyson comes to schools all over the country, school districts
and says, "The government just gave us all this money and we can give you free chicken."
It's like, "Great, we'll take the chicken." "Oh no, no. You can get it in chicken nuggets,
chicken patties, da, da, da, da, da, da, at around forty dollars a case." So the government
buys the chicken from Tyson who then sells the chicken that they've already been given,
they've already been paid for the chicken then they sell the chicken to schools for
the processing fee and oh by the way, then they add all that junk in there so it's a
very corrupt system. It's very highly ingrained. I don't know how we change the Farm Bill that
oversees that. I did talk with Kathleen Merrigan and I said the commodity system has to change
and she said pick your battles so I think that that's going to be a tough one but if
we could do, if there was a grassroots campaign in this country that would get people all
over the country to say we want better food for kids then that would make it a priority
to the Senate and the Congress people and the Representatives who are actually the ones
that vote on and decide on like staying on the Farm Bill because the USDA promotes it,
the President promotes but when Congress meet with Representatives and especially with any
kind of partisanship decide that their state is going to be, is not going to do so well
because now we're not going to have high fructose corn syrup in schools and what's Iowa going
to do if they can't produce high fructose corn syrup, so that's why it's so important
to be able touch just regular people like us because we are the ones that the officials
supposedly listen so if we could have this mass belief and get people to actually do
it, I mean when the Organic Standards was originally going to be passed it was going
to allow GMA's, irradiated food, and sewage sludge as all part of the organic program,
and there were two hundred and sixty thousand people who wrote in and said that's ridiculous
and they changed and that was before email pretty much. I mean, people actually picked
up a piece of paper and pencil and wrote and mailed. You know, now if we could get a million
or two million people to say we want something different, I think it would start to force
the government to look at this in a different way, so I think that's what has to happen
and it has to happen at the government because we are not going to get more money and we're
not going to get higher guidelines unless the government decides and the guidelines
without the money or the money without the guidelines, you have to have both.
Olivia Wu: Umm, the Farm Bill is next up for when? Next up for?
Ann Cooper: 2012.
Olivia Wu: 2012.
Ann Cooper: So at least three years or actually two years away from the Farm Bill yet they're
sort of like on these alternating years.
Olivia Wu: Okay. Umm, I want to zero in now on maybe the kid level. So I visited Berkeley
once in the very early days when you first took over and there were tostadas and stuff
that the lunch ladies took out from the freezer and put in the microwave and pressed a button
and they heated the kid's food up and the only fresh thing there was green grapes which
the kids then took outside in the playground and threw at each other so what can we do
in the way of interactive stuff for kids so that they might eat those grapes rather than
throw them at each other?
Ann Cooper: Well, you might know that eating grapes in the middle of one if they come from
Chile, are the wrong thing.
Olivia Wu: It shouldn't be there but yes, right.
Ann Cooper: This is a tremendous educational piece needed, you know? I say that there are
five big challenges to doing this work: food, finance, facilities, human resources, and
marketing. Food, where is it going to come from and how do we make sure it's good; finances,
how do we pay for it; facilities, how do we cook it or store it because most school kitchens
don't have stoves or walk ins; human resources, how do we take all these men and women all
across the country who have been using box cutters and can crushers because everything
came canned or frozen and actually now give them raw chicken and tell them how to cook
it and then after we've figured out all of that stuff which is overwhelmingly hard, how
do we get the kids to eat it? You know, we've now grown a generation of children that think
chicken nuggets is a food group and hot Cheetos and soda is breakfast. To get them to go from
there to something else, you know granola and yogurt for breakfast or roast chicken
and roast potatoes and salad bar at lunch is hard. Hands on experience in learning cooking
and gardening classes is really important but it would be really great if there was,
you know I've always thought this should be part of our website but we haven't even thought
about trying to develop this yet, but if there was some interactive things, websites, really
cool, compelling, or games. How about a game that kids would play that would be about food
or farming or agriculture and how do we get the kids invested. I mean, how do we get kids
that spend all of their time in front of a blue screen, how do we get them to understand
that where a carrot comes from makes a difference or that it may taste different if it comes
from dirt or if it comes from the grocery store where it's been for seven years, so
I think interactive games, which there are none out there, or some sort of food farming.
Something like that could be really cool. Some good kid-oriented websites that would
connect them and there are none that I know of out there and that doesn't replace the
hands on experiencial learning. I mean, I think we need to get kid's hands dirty. We
need to get them touching food, but we also need to start with from where they are and
the youngest kids are not too hard but for middle school and high school, it's really
hard to turn these kids around so we have to give them something that's cool for them,
you know. We need to make this stuff cool. Good food has got to be cool food and there's
not a school, well there's a couple, you know? There are very, very, very, very, very, very
few schools in America that has food even a tenth as good as what you guys here have
here every day.
Olivia Wu: Talk to me a little bit about, let me get the full "F's" here: food, family,
farming, foundation, your foundation.
Ann Cooper: So, we started a foundation only to be able to bring in money, to raise money
so we could build this web portal and about two years ago, I had had this idea for this
web portal for a number of years and I sort of tried to shop it around and get people
interested but a couple of years ago, the Carole Foundation gave us a planning grant,
a two year planning grant, to start building it and start thinking about it and start planning
it and almost at the same time, I started working with Whole Foods and over the two
years between then and now, we were able to raise a significant amount of money and actually
start implementation on the website so the foundation is really a vehicle to do projects.
The main, and only project right now, is the Lunch Box Project and of the Lunch Box Project,
really what we're working on is the web portal and also some videos and this letter writing
campaign so all of these campaigns are on the Child Nutrition Act and also around just
working with schools all across the country and this is all running through the foundation.
Olivia Wu: Are you doing anything with curricula at school and does everybody who have, every
school that has the food, gardening, and curricula component know about each other? What's going
on there?
Ann Cooper: You know, it's really difficult, you know. Everybody kind of gathers around
the garden piece because it feels sexy and it's fun and it's really, really, really important,
but by in large the gardens don't change what's on the plate in schools and unless you can
change what's on the plate in schools, the gardens are just kind of a cool fun or an
add on and because they've been sort of sexy, a lot of foundations have thrown money at
it. So we're reinventing the wheel a lot and one of the ideas around the web portal, the
Lunch Box, is that we will have a whole area on curriculum and we are trying to gather
the ear of the actual curriculum or links to curriculum in one place, so that every
school and district that decides they want to have some of these things doesn't either
A) Get a foundation to pay for it again or B) Not be able to get it because they just
can't find it so there is plenty of curriculum out there. You know, there's dozens and dozens
and dozens of curriculum, but mostly people don't know what each other is doing. There
is not one repository for all of this and that's what we hope the Lunch Box will be.
Olivia Wu: Excellent. Thank you. Are there any questions from out there?
Ann Cooper: Or comments or thoughts?
Olivia Wu: Or comments or thoughts?
>> They need to use the microphone.
Ann Cooper: We need a step ladder for the microphone.
>> That's true I guess. So, how do you naviagate between tackling everything and also staying
focused enough to actually have an impact?
Ann Cooper: I don't sleep. [laughs]
Olivia Wu: She does not.
Ann Cooper: So says my former roommate. I don't know. I mean, I guess because it's all
the same work whether I'm in Boulder, you know going into schools yesterday to see.
I mean, yesterday I was sitting in one of the schools at lunch talking to kids who had
gone to the salad bar and didn't have any protein and we're giving them out these things
because you know you got to them so that is just as instructive for the bigger work as
the bigger work instructs how we deal in Boulder, so because it's all so entwined, I guess I
can like do it all or try as well as I can do it all and it all inner relates. So there's
nothing too different so I'm able to kind of tackle as much as I can and I work with
some real, real great people you know, I have a ton of support.
Olivia Wu: Is there a piece of this movement that is about mobilizing chefs or people in
the organic movement to do a piece of this?
Ann Cooper: Sort of but there's a challenge among mobilizing chefs for this, because most
chefs have no concept of what it means to cook a meal for a dollar. They have no idea
how to deal with the commodity food system, many of them don't use recipes, never mind
having the USDA guidelines to deal with and trying to, and then having kids as the ones
who you know, are your customers. So I think it's really important to be able to have the
chefs involved but we have to find the right place. You know, now that we have like "Top
Chef" and I just saw an advertisement for like "The Warrior Kitchen". I mean, I don't
know. It's all crazy but now that chefs are celebrities. I think that there is a way to
touch kids, especially high school kids and middle schools kids. We chefs coming in and
saying you need to eat better and here's some ways, but I don't think the answer is getting
chefs in those kitchens cooking with the lunch ladies. I think you get a lot and lot of this
because it's just, you know, you got to deal with these commodities and you got to figure
all that part out but if we could get chefs and rock stars and football stars and musicians,
I mean if we could get people the kids look up to to help with this food piece and help
say it's really important to eat well, I think that would be great.
>> Hi, I was wondering how your group is sort of addressing what I see is two sort of root
causes of why food is so bad in schools. One would be the amount of money they're getting,
like a dollar. I think it's pretty much impossible. I mean, we have good food here at Google but
I've heard numbers about how much it costs; it's expensive but it's very good food. And
then two, the actual convincing of people that the food is harmful because what I think
the biggest problem is that kids can be told something and they will sort of believe it
but you know if parents aren't telling them that it's harmful or they don't believe it's
harmful, like you have to convince somebody that chicken nuggets isn't healthy. How are
you addressing that part? I guess that's my main question.
Ann Cooper: Okay, so first thing on the dial or with our animated video that we hope to
show sometime, maybe at lunch, we just did this animated video and we're actually at
the end of the video, it says and it's all animated with a young child's voice, "Please
give us an extra dollar for lunch" so my campaign, or our campaign, is going to start on February
9th and it is directed toward the USDA and Congressmen and Representatives is we need
an extra dollar for lunch dedicated to fresh foods, fresh vegetables, whole grains with
a priority on regional procurement so that is what we're pushing for. I can tell you
I don't believe we'll get it. There's not a lot of people only asking for 35 cents but
what the President has proposed is a billion dollars for all child nutrition services which
would end up with about fifteen to twenty cents added to the National School Lunch Program
which is just such a, I mean I can't buy a piece of fruit, you know? For us to get good
food to put on a kid's plate is 25 cents so the idea that we're only going to raise the
National School Lunch Program by half of that is just overwhelming so that's our campaign.
It's going to start in a few weeks and you know, that's what we're really pushing for.
In the campaign, in the little video that we're going to try to get up and 'virally',
it actually in a really cute way says you know thirty percent of kids are overweight,
one in three kids are going to have diabetes in their lifetime, so we're trying to get
this out without really scaring people and getting them to understand. I think our website
will also have more information but there's a way to touch people in a school and in a
district but from nationwide, it's really going to take, I mean I wish the government
would do a national marketing campaign around good food. I mean, the government took on
drinking and driving, they took on seatbelts, they took on smoking, they really should take
on the food issue. I'm not sure they would because there is so much big business that
you know stands to lose money if we eat healthier. I mean, if kids ate healthier, who wins? Well,
not agribusiness, not the medical industrial complex, and not the pharmaceutical industrial
complex so who wins? The kids? They don't vote so we really do have to try and educate
their kids and their parents through soft marketing and PR that does just this educational
component and you know it's hard but you show its strength when it said that there's one
point one million who wake up hungry every day in America and when you're hungry, you
know you don't necessarily care about the quality of the food, you just don't want your
kids to be hungry so we have an access issue, we have a demographic issue between rich and
poor, you know. This is totally a social equity issue. You know, the CDC has said that of
the children born in the year 2001, one out of every three Caucasians and one out of every
two African Americans and Hispanics are going to have diabetes in their lifetime, many before
they graduate high school so we're looking at within ten years, 30 or 35 percent of kids
insulin dependant. I mean, it's crazy and it really runs along social lines, social
equity lines and we've also seen that the achievement and the life expectancy gap between
rich and poor has grown twenty percent over the last two decades so if you're poor in
America, you're going, you're not going to do as well in school and you're going to die
younger. I mean, it's a crazy thing for our country, so we really have to get the education
out there.
Olivia Wu: Has anybody done the matrix on the cost of healthcare for all of these young
Ann Cooper: As a matter of fact, Michael Pollan reported about three months ago in the New
York Times that just two illnesses, diabetes and obesity, is now costing the country 260
billion dollars, that's a quarter trillion and if the healthcare initiative, that may
probably not pass now which is awful, was only going to cost 900 billion. I mean, in
one year spending 25 percent of the entire cost of the healthcare bill on these two diseases
that are by in large preventable.
>> You should put that on the campaign for the extra dollar. I mean, that's one more
dollar, right?
Ann Cooper: Yeah, well it's just so crazy and the National School Lunch Program right
now spends $8.5 billion to feed 5.4 billion lunches a year and so if we added a dollar,
it would go from 8.5 billion to 14 billion and people, you know I say this in Washington
and you know people like lose their mind and I'm going, "Yeah, but okay so it's costing
three billion dollars a week for the war that we try and pretend we're not in and it's going
to cost 260 billion a year for healthcare" So what is it going to take for us as a nation
to understand that we have to see what we eat as part of our health and part of preventative
medicine. You know, health and human services recently came out and said if we don't change
how we're eating, every single person in our country is going to be overweight or obese
by 2040, you know? In 30 years. It's crazy, it's crazy.
Olivia Wu: What other matrix should we be looking at?
Ann Cooper: Well, the thing, the unfortunate thing that everybody wants to know is if we
feed kids better food, will it raise their academic performance. This is a very, very,
very hard -
Olivia Wu: Well, duh.
Ann Cooper: Well, instead of like "Duh". Okay, so when any of us like eat crap all day or
don't eat, how do we feel? We feel really awful and when is it that we want sugar or
caffeine? 3 in the afternoon when we skip lunch. I mean, we as adults know what happens
to our body, you know. We don't?
>> We don't pay attention to our bodies as adults. What are you talking about? [laughs]
Ann Cooper: Okay. Maybe as adults we actually have the knowledge to pay attention to our
bodies if we wanted to and with all that being said, we do know that kids that eat a diet
high in sugar, refined sugar and refined flour, are really often diagnosed with ADD, ADHD,
and dyslexia. We know that these same kids are almost always in the office, that they
have real poor performance and real poor behavior but everybody wants the study that's going
to link better food to academic performance because of No Child Left Behind. Well, No
Child Left Behind pretty much leaves every child behind. It is a crazy system, it's really
bad from the food service point of view. There was just a study done in England by Jamie
Oliver's group, a group run by Jamie Oliver just did a study and did actually show over
there that the food reduction in refined sugars and refined flours in more whole foods does
indeed increase academic performance. What I actually think it does is not increase academic
performance, it increases our ability to focus and think. You know, when you give kids a
lot of sugar they just get really high and they crash and I was working with some kids
in Harlem one time and we were making a PBS show and they're just hanging around and the
kids are a little nervous and there're cameras everywhere and I said, "What did you guys
have for breakfast?" And I came from a little town in the middle of nowhere and they said,
"Snack Crack". I'm in Harlem now and I said, "Oh. They said snack crack. It's an English
topping." And they said, "You know, our parents go out in the street and get crack to get
high all we need is 20 ounce soda and candy on the way to school and we get just as high,
you know." I mean, this is what the kids, 13 year olds were saying, so they know what
we are doing to them and I say 'we' because you know, the adults have to make choices.
I mean, schools are drug free zones, schools are alcohol free zones, they should be junk
food free zones.
>> Actually just quickly, would you talk about open campuses versus closed campuses? I don't
know the status of Berkeley and I don't know the status of Boulder and is that going to
be required for a big change like this.
Ann Cooper: Yeah. Both Berkeley and Boulder have open campuses. It's a really crazy system.
I do not know why we would want to send our children -
>> Tell people what that means.
Ann Cooper: Okay. So what open campus means is that in many high schools across the country,
the students are allowed to leave campus for up to an hour in the middle of the day to
go somewhere and do something. The idea is that you are letting them go off campus for
lunch. These are, you know, sometimes as young as 14, 15 year old, 16 year old kids who you
send to school because you think that they're being educated and you know given some supervision
that you then allow them to go where they want. One of the things that happens when
you let them go where they want is they don't eat the food on campus and they go eat junk
food wherever they can because they don't want to spend a lot of money and they can
get a lot of calories and a lot of sugar and a lot of fat for 99 cents at some fast food
place. Schools are starting to turn that around, it makes no sense to me. Why would you, why
would we want to send our kids to school and then assume that they're going to spend some
amount of time without any supervision doing whatever they're going to be doing and eating
and drinking and smoking whatever they are going to be doing and yeah, I mean that happens
to us all at some point when we are probably a little older then teenagers, but I do think
we should close campuses. The big challenge on closing campuses now is they didn't make
schools big enough, you know? Because they started letting kids out so now, like in Berkeley,
there's one high school, 32 hundred students, they built a beautiful new cafeteria and it
seats 400. Duh! There's no way I can feed them and Boulder's done the same thing so
schools have saved money by building buildings that don't have cafeteria seating for the
kids because they figure the kids are going to go away so it's, "Oh good, we don't have
to watch them for an hour." Well, you know that's not -- if we are educating the whole
child for the whole day that we have them with us, we have to understand that the lunch
period is part of the educational experience. It's part of the whole child.
Olivia Wu: Do we know the policy people and the Congress people who are most friendly
to childhood nutrition and such issues?
Ann Cooper: Yes. There will be up on the new website, there's some other websites that
do have them all listed. We don't have them listed on our website but we will have all
the information up there.
>> I have a question that relates to that. It seemed to me for a long time that the real
way to victory on this is to make this a bipartisan issue which of course it inherently is. It's
about children and it's very hard to meet any elected official who doesn't understand
that that's fundamentally really the constituency. Of course, it very quickly can become a political
and bipartisan issue when I think grownups get involved.
Ann Cooper: [laughs]
>> And so I actually really would love to see, you know, a way to get children speaking
more actively and I challenge the people of Google to help make this happen. To let children
more speak to their experience directly to share their experiences with people and to
be the advocates for this change, because what we're seeing more and more is
that these polarizing issues including healthcare has become very, very difficult for people
to understand, for the electorates to understand, for Democrats who originally thought it was
a great idea to understand, for Republicans who felt that they were going to have to support
it to support it. Most people now feel, as you said a moment ago, it's kind of dead in
the water. You know, the children are incredibly powerful here. They can cut through a lot
of this but we have to find a way to give them a voice.
Ann Cooper: There's a couple of interesting things happening. There is a couple of different
groups. One is the Healthy Schools Campaign that are actually having kids do a set of
"Iron Chef" competitions and the winners of the one in Chicago actually got to meet Sam
Kass, who is the chef at the White House, or Michelle's chef and working on these issues.
They actually just two days ago served the winning recipe from this year at all the Chicago
schools so there is this group that's doing that. The other thing that's happening is
a video competition which is, what's the name of it?
>> The National Farm to School Network.
Ann Cooper: The National Farm to School Network is hosting a video competition and we are
part of the sponsors of this and they are getting kids all across the country to make
little videos and upload them about what their school food is and what it should be so there's
two projects that are going on right now, and we are working with both of them.
>> And that's on Youtube by the way.
Ann Cooper: That's on Youtube? Yeah, okay. That again is
Olivia Wu: Okay. A lot of data has already been gathered. What we don't want to do at
Google is repeat any of that and a lot of studies have been done, short of the one you're
talking that connects academic performance for that, but is there any area in data collection
that has not been done out there?
Ann Cooper: Well, there has not been a really unbiased national study done about what's
really happening in schools. On our website, we are going to have areas where there's feasibility
studies that have been done so you can see them and a lot of this information will be
on the Lunch Box site but what I don't think has happened is a real comprehensive look
at what we are feeding our kids all across the country. The School Nutrition Association
has done it, but not all school districts are involved and they really have it bent
to make it look good, so I don't know that we've ever collected really what kids are
eating. Like New York City, I think on the New York Times today, New York City just changed
the fat content of the milk and saved, I don't know, how many billions of calories, but we
shouldn't serve chocolate milk in schools and we haven't been able to get chocolate
milk out of schools. So really understand what we are feeding our kids and the health
ramifications. I just don't think we've done a good enough job figuring that piece out.
>> You mentioned a list of people in Congress who are friendly toward healthy food in the
schools. Have you identified people who are less then friendly who are more on the agribusiness
side and more to understand their argument and their problems to be solved as well so
that hopefully it could be a bipartisan issue?
Ann Cooper: Well, I don't have that list but it'd be pretty easy to make.
>> About half, right?
Ann Cooper: Yes. Nicole?
Nicole >> Children Tips and La Vida Locavore has a list of the unfriendlies on her website.
Ann Cooper: Okay, so there's a website. and she has both the- for and against people.
The people are not against healthy food for kids but they are by in large from these states
where all of their money comes from corn or soy, and there is basically not much good
you can do with GMA corn or soy except make it into this stuff that goes into school food
or healthcare or things like that.
>> Related question. Have we learned much from the fight against tobacco and how to
work with those states that are dependant upon tobacco because there's been, as a child
of the 70's, tremendous progress in the last thirty years.
Ann Cooper: You know, Michael Pollan talks about this issue a lot and you know, there's
a lot of people who talk about this big ad and how it points into the cigarette smoking
issue. The thing that comes up, and you hear is the pushback all the time, is there is
nothing positive about smoking and you didn't need to smoke. Everyone needs to eat and there's
this social component of that. There's a historical component of that. There is the familiar component
of that and big business just keeps pushing it as choices, choices, exercise, yet they
spend twenty billion dollars a year marketing non nutrient foods to kids so I think a lot
of people have thought how to connect these and I do think, we've seen some people like
trying to sue McDonalds and then now we have these anti veggie laws where you can't sue.
I don't know if you guys remember when Oprah said that she wouldn't eat a hamburger again
from the National Cattlemen's Association sued her for billions of dollars. She won
but it cost her a billion to win, you know so there's these anti defamation for vegetable
laws so you can't say a food isn't good, you know. It's crazy so people have sort of put
their toe in. I think the way to go after this and it's really hard to say you have
to sue the government, but I'd love to see us think about a way to do a class action
suit against some of these big companies and against the government that's feeding our
kids that allows this food into schools, but it's really hard to sue a government [laughs]
I want to do it! We can do it.[laughs]
>> Well, you and I have been talking for a long time about suing the government and I'm
in. I'm ready [laughs]
I'm just going to say maybe you want to mention Kelly Brownell who recently had that pretty
interesting report that he issued. This is a guy at Yale who is very interested in the
parallels between anti smoking sentiment and the movement that grew up to really kind of
take that over.
Ann Cooper: But which report exactly?
>> It's about nine months old and actually I can just send it but it's pretty interesting
because it actually doesn't deal so much with the litigious aspects as the cultural aspects
of marketing and it's really about the mistakes that people in the food movement have made
and the mistakes that people in the tobacco movement are making and how we can kind of
try to capitalize on it but I appreciated his study because it was more nuanced and
it did deal of course with this huge problem, which is that we all have to eat, but it really
tried to talk a lot about the kind of marketing shifts.
Ann Cooper: Well, one of things at one of the studies that has just really recently
come out too is really finally proving this thing about marketing to kids and that these
big companies are so focused on marketing this non nutrient foods to kids and you know,
kids are basically brainwashed over this stuff, but Kelly Brownell from the Rudd Center at
Yale has been studying obesity in kids and adults for a long time and looking at all
of these issues.
Olivia Wu: I want to bring the conversation back around to just what you do on the ground
every day and what the kids are like. So describe for me what a kid's lunch was starting with
chicken nuggets and then describe to us for the dollar and the commodities that you got,
what kind of meals they got by the end of your four year tenure at Berkeley.
Ann Cooper: In Berkeley, we started with the food I told you. The real crappy commodity
Olivia Wu: So it was chicken nuggets, chocolate milk.
Ann Cooper: It was chicken nuggets, corn dogs, extremo burritos, grilled cheese sandwiches,
and pizza pockets and they are all pre frozen and pre made things and they had chocolate
milk and they had all kinds of sugary 'desserty' things and stuff like that.
Olivia Wu: So how many calories was a meal like?
Ann Cooper>> A typical meal like that tends to be about a thousand calories and it tends
to be 2,000 milligrams of sodium which is really more than a daily dose so that's what
it tends to be.
Olivia Wu: And calories from fat?
Ann Cooper: Almost all. Like 60 percent calories for that and usually a meal like that has
15 or 20 percent 'sat' fat even though the law says ten.
Olivia Wu: And then what was the change?
>> That's within guidelines, right?
Ann Cooper: Well, it's going outside the guidelines. There's no guidelines on sugar or sodium.
You are supposed to stay under 35 percent fat and under 10 percent 'sat' fat but because
the way a lot of it works, some people don't but you can balance it over the course of
a week, so then you feed them something else that doesn't have so much fat one day and
you can balance out, so there's no law on how much you can feed kids. There is also
no maximum calorie count which is really, really old and silly. They tell you that you
can feed kids two to three thousand calories. It's like, "Huh? Do you not know there's an
obesity crisis?" But again, their job is to promote agriculture and the easiest way to
promote agriculture is corn and soy, because that's what we grow in this country. So now
in Berkeley, although I haven't been there this year but when I left last year, instead
of chicken nuggets there'd be roast chicken and instead of tater tots, there'd be roast
potatoes. There'd be a fresh vegetable and there were full salad bars in every school
every day, local organic milk. No desserts and no high fructose corn syrup, no transfats,
all whole grains and that's the same way we are walking towards in Boulder. We are certainly
not in Boulder where Berkeley ended up because we are just beginning in it but there's a
lot of pushback from kids. I mean, I just got an email today saying,
"Why is it that we have to feed kids chicken with bones?" and my comeback is, "Do you know
any chickens that are growing without bones?" [laughs] and it's this crazy thing. Now that
we've convinced kids that chicken nuggets are actually chicken, who decided that chicken
should be stars or giraffes or dinosaurs or you know, fish? Chicken is chicken so why
shouldn't chicken come on the bone? But you know, the idea that kids don't even know the
chicken has bones anymore and we are not supposed to feed it to them. So in Boulder, our slowest
day of the week now and we are working on this in all kinds of ways, is chicken day
because kids don't know how to actually eat chicken anymore and because they think chicken
nuggets is chicken, so it's a struggle to make these changes and you know you would
think roast potatoes for tater tots but there's lot of kids who haven't eaten a fresh roasted
potato, but they think that tater tots are actually potatoes or that you know that instant
potato stuff is what mashed potatoes are supposed to taste like so when we serve kids real mashed
potatoes, they go "Uggh!" and we make real mac and cheese and the kids hate it, you know?
One of our biggest complaints so far this year is the mac and cheese and it's like,
"Okay, so we're cooking pasta and we've got real cheddar cheese and we are making the
cheese." But you know, they are used to Kraft and that yellow amato powder that you mix
with water and put some little pasta stuff in it, so it's a huge change for kids and
the other comment I got from kids is it's not salty enough and this comes from the amount
of salt they get in processed food versus the amount of salt you'd actually salt something
with. So it's not salty enough, it's not spicy enough because they are so used to this highly
processed, really high sodium food. On the other hand, what we are seeing now is kids
10 years old who have kidney stones, because of all the sodium in food. I mean, this is
crazy. Ten year old kids now with kidney stones and you know pre teen kids with high blood
pressure and heart disease and you know, it's really awful.
Olivia Wu: But on the other hand, the days you would tell me about where a big bowl of
Pink Lady organic apples disappeared. The kids liked them?
Ann Cooper: Well, absolutely. I mean, in Berkeley you had that model, you had cooking and gardening
classes in every single school. That hands on experiencial learning is invaluable. You
got to have a way to touch the kids but by the end of the Berkeley project, or by the
time I left, because it's ongoing and sustainable, I mean kids were really eating the food and
the participation went up over three times. When I started, we were doing about 500 thousand
meals a year and I think they are going hit almost two million this year so we really
grew participation. The kids are eating. They eat food, they eat vegetables, they eat off
the salad bar. You know, not every kids eats great every day but when you work with the
kids, it's a process. I often say it takes ten years. You got to get the kids when they
are young and get them through high school because if you just start in the middle, it's
really hard.
>> Okay, actually that's a great opportunity for me to stand up. Why start in school? What
about first fives? What about earlier? What about preschool? You know, you are starting
with children who've already had years of exposure to chicken nuggets shaped like dinosaurs
and apples that were pre cut in a bag. Why didn't you start in preschools and get them
eating healthy there?
Ann Cooper: We actually, in Berkeley and in Boulder where preschools are involved with
the public school system, we do but as an entry point the public school system is where
we feed the most kids and because that system is where we're actually paid, there is money
available to do that so I'm not at all saying we shouldn't start with younger kids. It's
just the entry point that I think is one we can use but most schools are actually starting
with pre kindergarten and stuff like that so you do have an option. The thing about
a lot of the preschools is that they end before lunch, a lot of preschools are half day so
we are trying to get into the schools with breakfast so I absolutely agree. I mean, not
only you can touch the kids, the more you can touch the parents. I mean, we go to every
PTA meeting, these calendars are an unbelievable marketing tool. I mean the marketing, marketing,
marketing talking to parents. I mean, it's hard. I met with a bunch of the leaders of
the Hispanic community in Boulder a couple of days ago and getting them to understand
why it's so important and why we really have to do this is a process. It takes time and
it's not easy.
Olivia Wu: So an interesting point for discussion later on in a sense. If you want to fight
the fight, we need to maybe start with the preschool and consider that this generation
of high school kids is lost and focus there. So, thank you for coming and thank you so
much, Ann, and I know most of us will be continuing with this discussion for the next two hours.
Thank you so much.
Ann Cooper: Thank you.