In the empire of the caterings schoolchildren a rebellion is brewing. Through the corridors of the rural school of Riotorto, in Lugo, it smells of freshly cooked food and the children devour the broth and the vegetable stew that their cook prepares for them next to the classrooms, on the stove of the building itself. 130 kilometers away, the children of the A Caracola municipal school, in the Novo Mesoiro neighborhood of A Coruña, have been savoring a fundamentally organic menu for some time now, with vegetables harvested the day before by farmers from the region. Chefs with a Michelin star to politicians have savored the benefits of its dining room. “Most of the children today eat poorly because of how families are doing, which does not give us life, and the problem is that schools without kitchens continue to open. This has to change. Good nutrition should not be taught to you by illness, but by school”, defends Beatriz Ferreira, director of A Caracola and an activist convinced that healthy eating must be discovered at the desks.
These schools are part of the 25 educational centers that will participate in Galicia in the EcoComedores project in February, an initiative that stands up to food of plastic, to the realm of frozen foods and products grown or baked in faraway lands. The students of these schools, all with their own kitchen, will eat 2,000 menus for a month advised by a team of nutritionists and made with organic, seasonal and local products. Nothing to eat lettuce and tomato in winter, warn the promoters of the program. What nature serves now is cabbage or broccoli and it is necessary to pay attention to it. The raw material will be supplied by farmers and ranchers in the region. In addition to providing richer and healthier dishes, the environmental footprint of these viandas is much less than that of a pineapple that travels 8,000 kilometers. It is one more way to mitigate climate change.
“It’s healthier and also cheaper food,” explains Jorge Blanco, coordinator of the project and manager of the As Mariñas-Betanzos rural development group, which brings together 15 municipalities in the A Coruña area. The entity has been incorporating organic products into school menus for eight years thanks to the advice of the Carasso Foundation, an organization committed to healthy eating. This experience is what is now intended to be extended to schools in half of Galicia thanks to an alliance with rural development groups from another 11 counties, the Ministry of Rural Affairs, the Xunta Social Services Agency, the supermarket company Gadisa and the Leader program. During this trial month, the menus will be free for the centers. After this time, the addresses must decide whether to continue with the model.
The promoters of the EcoComedores have managed to balance the accounts with “top quality” products. Each menu costs two euros. The secret, reveals Blanco, is to eat more vegetable protein and less animal protein, in addition to not wasting anything. “The organic product has fewer losses, loses less volume, is more satiating and more nutritious,” he lists. “It is also more complex to manage, because for example it brings more land, but the kitchen staff are delighted with this extra work because it is rewarded in the health of the children and in the local economy.” Nutritionists have taught schools to improve ingredient ratios to adjust prices without losing nutrients and to manage each product well to minimize waste. It is the way, they emphasize, that quality food does not cost more.
Lois González, from the organic livestock farm O Rego, in Allariz (Ourense), will supply the school of the neighboring Rairiz de Veiga City Hall, where her daughter studies: “The catering It is very comfortable, but it is not ethical or ecological. Local producers are more aware of quality. How can you not pamper a school where your children or your neighbors eat? In Galicia, there are still some 300 schools with their own kitchen, an unusual case in Spain and a “luxury”, highlights the project coordinator, because “in other autonomous communities there are almost none”.
To organize the distribution, EcoComedores has a platform in which each week farmers and ranchers report the varieties and quantities they have. The schools place their order and a transport company takes it away. Logistics is now your “big workhorse”. In a territory as dispersed as Galicia, production, Blanco argues, is “very fragmented” and that means an additional cost. To solve this problem, they are considering various measures, such as creating a common distribution center or producer groups. “There are always channels. If a stable network is created that gives confidence, all the producers will be interested because they are assured sales”, says the rancher Lois González.
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Four years ago, Miguel Roig founded Os Biosbardos, a five-hectare organic garden located in Cambre (A Coruña). He emphasizes that the EcoComedores project not only allows farmers like him to “disclose all the product in a short channel” with “agreed and decent prices”, but also to ally and coordinate, even take the first steps to form an association or a cooperative. “By coming together we can offer more types of product, more quantity and for a longer time”, he explains.
When globalization “turns around”
The Riotorto school, where 36 children study, hopes to continue with the model after February. “We are a small, family-run and very close-knit school. We are very aware that you must learn to eat well at school and we also want to involve the students by organizing days in which they cook”, says its director, María Airado. The “satisfaction” of families when they see that children eat healthy outside the home is one of the prizes. Beatriz Ferreira, director of the A Caracola nursery school in A Coruña, affirms that more and more parents are concerned about the school menu. “It is the families that are going to make the model change, because the Administration is not up to the task”, she predicts.
Ferreira criticizes that the design of school menus currently depends on the criteria of the directors of educational centers or cooks who often do not have adequate training. It should be the Ministry of Education that spreads healthy and quality food in schools. “Food is essential for children’s lives because they are captive commensals, that is, they eat what is put on them,” he argues. The Ministry of Consumption is already preparing a regulation in this line.
The EcoComedores coordinator is convinced that the transformation to which his project aims is “irreversible”. “In 10 or 15 years it will be in the day to day. Globalization is on its way to turning around. And the pandemic showed that local producers held up very well,” says Blanco. Meanwhile, the director of the nursery school in the Novo Mesoiro neighborhood of A Coruña is concerned because the recently built school that her little students will go to later has a dining room run by a catering. When it was projected, they fought for it to have its own kitchen, or to at least be left with the necessary connections to install it in the future, but “it was the no for the no.” “And to think that my children who eat red cabbage, snow peas and salad up to the age of six will have to go to the tray with frozen beans and refined oil…!” Ferreira sighs.
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