Food Director Becomes Hero in Obesity Fight
by Heather Knight, San Francisco Chronicle, May 23, 2004
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nutrition directors gather for conferences, Ed Wilkins is the
oddball. He's a man in a field dominated by women, has roots in
business rather than nutrition, has no children of his own and,
at 6 feet, 5 inches, he towers above the others.
But that pales beside his resolve to ensure that San Francisco's
public schools never sell students another empty calorie.
No more french fries. No more soda. No more Hostess cakes. No
more Gatorade. No more ice cream. No more potato chips -- even
of the baked variety. Nothing battered, nothing fried. No more
"hot" anything -- hot dogs, hot links, hot wings.
"I remembered how I was able to eat as a child, and in all
honesty, I was appalled at what we were serving them," said
Wilkins, 56, in his slow Texas drawl.
A group of parents worked to make over the old menu,
Superintendent Arlene Ackerman gave her support and the city's
Board of Education approved it. But Wilkins, the district's
interim director of student nutrition, has been the one to make
it all happen.
Now, students can only buy food at school that contains less
than 30 percent of calories from fat, less than 10 percent of
calories from saturated fat and less than 35 percent sugar by
weight. In addition, snacks and side dishes must contain certain
levels of vitamins, minerals, protein and fiber.
The standards don't affect the regular lunch line, which must
meet guidelines already set by the U.S. Department of
Agriculture. But they do affect every other kind of food sold at
school -- from cafeteria snack bars to vending machines to
fund-raisers during school hours. Yes, even the lunchtime bake
sale is no more.
The new policy was launched at Aptos Middle School in January
2003 and has since gone districtwide.
Sales dipped at first, but have rebounded, Wilkins said,
debunking the conventional wisdom that school food programs risk
bankruptcy if they take away popular, fatty food. Now, kids buy
salads, deli sandwiches, soup, fresh fruit, yogurt and 100
percent fruit juice -- and actually like them.
"It's made me change the way I eat," said Aptos student Racquel
Kraft, 13. "I don't want to go home and eat a lot of junk food,
because if I can't eat it at school, why should I eat it at
Sylvia McClain, 12, said she has ditched chips for salad and
lost five pounds. "I felt like a potato -- a couch potato," she
said. "I was really lazy and didn't do anything. Now I'm more
That's Wilkins' goal -- to change the way students think about
food and nutrition even outside the cafeteria.
"Maybe the kids will teach their own parents something," he
Wilkins isn't done yet -- he is launching a salad bar program at
elementary schools. "Kids love it -- it's like a field trip,
somehow," he said.
With so many children skipping breakfast for a few more minutes
of sleep in the morning, Wilkins plans to start a grab-and-go
breakfast program in which students grab a portable breakfast in
the cafeteria and eat together in their classroom to begin their
Wilkins gets a special kick out of the kindergartners. During a
recent lunch break, he folded his big frame into little chairs
to sit with them.
"I keep telling them, 'If you eat good food, you'll get this
tall too.' "
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