School lunch has been the butt of every joke in entertainment for a very long time. Does this scenario sound familiar?
With the background commotion of indistinct chatter, students passively shuffle along in a line that seems to be never ending. When they finally reach the front of the line, they are met with a blank stare from a woman with a permanent scowl, a five-o’clock shadow, and a mole with a single hair poking out of it. The woman dips a ladle into a huge pot of who knows what, slings a heaping lump of colorless slop on a plate, and shoves a tray at the student, only to repeat the same dull process thousands of times a day.
Although reality is perhaps far less dramatic, cafeteria lunches have earned this stereotypical treatment from the entertainment industry because cafeteria food has been disgusting for generations.
In reality, the men and women who work in cafeterias are usually frustrated rather than careless. They are tasked with satisfying hundreds of insatiable appetites on a shoe string budget, and they try to put on a bright smile despite the hopelessness of the situation. Unlike the movies, many children today scarf down the “disgusting” food because the meal they get in the cafeteria is their first and last meal of the day. On top of the already complex conundrum, childhood obesity is more prevalent today than ever before, and this issue is only exacerbated by the fact that many of the cheapest foods are the unhealthiest.
Rather than poking fun at the problems, Daniel Giusti and a dedicated group of professional chefs are tackling these issues head on with an organization called Brigaid. Giusti grew up in a family where big meals were something that brought people together. As a professional chef, he brought great meals and great feelings to his customers. He left his job at Noma, a world renowed restaurant in Copenhagen, Denmark, to make a difference for children in the States.
Brigaid is an organization that aims to make eating an enjoyable experience for everyone, and specifically aims to change the way the next generation looks at food. Rather than rushing students through a lackluster meal. Brigaid aims to help students to slow down and truly appreciate their food. Meal prepared by the organization are made with real ingredients and include portion sizes that are both filling and healthy.
This is accomplished by adding professional chefs as full time members of school cafeteria staffs. Although new, professional chefs are introduced, the cafeteria staff is not replaced. Brigaid chefs and existing staff work together to identify and solve problems, as well as give students the most nutritious and tasty meal possible while staying in budget. The transformation often begins with helping the school find funding to update or repair existing appliances. The organization is currently working with public schools in New London, Connecticut.
As one of its fundraising efforts, Brigaid hosts community meals where, for the only five dollars, the community can taste the inexpensive delicious food that these chefs and cafeteria workers have been making for the schools.
The organization newest initiative helps both schoolchildren and fledgling chefs. In the program, promising culinary professionals from local restaurants are sent to work in a Brigaid cafeteria for five months. During the time, they will work closely with the head chef and be tasked with menu development and budgeting. This new program ensures that the Brigaid program can continue for as long as possible and gives young professionals valuable work experience. Daniel Giusti and the Brigaid chefs and volunteers are making an indelible impact in the lives of countless children.