Food Policy Council acknowledges slow pace of reform

In an effort to combat what it is calling an obesity epidemic, the New Haven public-school system has over the past year hired a new director of dining operations and moved from nationally distributed food suppliers to local providers. But these policy changes have yet to be implemented successfully, a member of the Food Policy Council told members of the Board of Aldermen’s Human Resources Committee on Tuesday evening.

The Council — a government organization formed last year — discussed a report on its inaugural year at last night’s meeting. Among its achievements, said Jennifer McTiernan, the executive director of CitySeed and a member of the Food Policy Council, is the appointment of Tim Cipriano, the self-proclaimed “local food dude,” to the post of food-services director for New Haven public schools. In his new role, Cipriano is in charge of finding local food suppliers to replace the national Aramark, whose contract the Board of Education declined to renew earlier this year.

“I definitely think it’s a very exciting time for New Haven public schools,” McTiernan said.

But, she conceded, the desired changes have not come quickly enough.

Much of the food for the current school year was ordered prior to Cipriano’s appointment, meaning the old menu will remain for the time being, McTiernan said. During Tuesday’s meeting, a mother of a New Haven public-school student questioned McTiernan’s optimism about the plan.

“My daughter tells me she lost a lot of weight over the summer, and she thinks she’s going to gain it back [from the food served in the schools],” the mother said. “We’re brown-bagging it until we see a change.”

But McTiernan said she remains positive.

“We’re still in the transition process,” McTiernan replied, pointing to specific examples of progress including the Columbus Family Academy’s introduction of a salad bar. “We’re at this tipping point, and there is going to be a palpable change.”

And this change is particularly necessary for the New Haven public-school students, said Becky Elias, a staffperson for the Council.

“It’s estimated that the statistics for obese, overweight and at-risk children in New Haven are up to 50 percent higher than the national average,” Elias said. “The majority of calories in the diet of New Haven children come from their schools, so that became our focus.”

Current statistics suggest that over 60 percent of New Haven public-school students qualify for free or reduced-price meals, one participant in the meeting said. According to Elias, because of this abnormally high proportion of eligible students, all students in New Haven public schools receive free meals. This translates to 4.46 million meals served in New Haven public schools during the 2005-’06 academic year.

The Food Policy Council will be holding a meeting on Thursday, Sept. 11, from 6:00-7:30 p.m. at the West Hills School library.

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