PEI

Cafeteria Man visits Island to promote free school lunch program

Chef Tony Geraci has vacationed on the Island, now he's hoping to find a way for every public school student here to have a free, locally-sourced, lunch everyday.

'You guys have this amazing opportunity to make a global statement about P.E.I.'

The documentary Cafeteria Man looks at the transformation of Baltimore's school food program. (cafeteriaman.com)

Chef Tony Geraci has vacationed on the Island, now he's hoping to find a way for every public school student here to have a free, locally-sourced, lunch everyday.    

"All of the pieces to the puzzle exist," the man behind the documentary Cafeteria Man told Island Morning on Monday.  "A lot of it has to do with education and understanding of the economics of this." 

Geraci knows his stuff — he's created programs that serve healthy local lunches to 82,000 students in Baltimore and now 200,000 students in Memphis. This week he's the guest of the PEI Home and School Federation, helping it propel a resolution for a universal free school lunch program forward.

He believes with fewer than 20,000 students on P.E.I. it should be a no brainer. But it's not.

Right now, he said, the companies applying to run school cafeterias don't have to spend a penny on locally produced food.  

"The language has to be more specific about that, about local purchasing and mandating that that happens if we hire you," he said.

Starting small

Geraci suggests starting small, carving out a portion of the $13 million spent on food to supply the schools on local farms. He said that money can stay on the Island and is reinvested. 

"That $5 million piece now becomes a $25 million impact." 

Geraci has created program that serve millions of free meals to students in the United States. (Matt Rainnie/ CBC )

He also wants to see the students create new menus 

Geraci said the province needs to find the money for the program. He's seen the change in the schools where he's worked, kids are more engaged and prepared for the day. 

"It sets the stage to put healthy kids in front of educators that are ready to learn. And that in itself pays a few more dividends that that $13 million."

'An amazing opportunity'

Cafeteria Man's not planning to make his case and run.

Geraci thinks a business plan can be created over the winter to convince government to pay for free lunches starting next fall. He also wants kids to be in on menu planning, asking all 68 schools to create dishes within the health guidelines and the per-student budget.

"You guys have this amazing opportunity to make a global statement about P.E.I. and about who you are, and what you are and who you're about."    

Geraci will spend most of his time on P.E.I. visiting schools, eating with kids and talking to politicians about how to feed students a free lunch. 

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