Each year, I track down food films to be shown at the food co-op in which I work. Each year, I’m guided by the choices of SYRCL’s Wild and Scenic Film Festival, but in previous years, I discovered many films on my own. This year, I was incredibly lucky because Wild and Scenic screened some amazing food films, so I was able to just follow suit.
Our first screening, on February 1, actually won the award for Best of Festival. “Cafeteria Man” deserved the honor.
Frustrated by the pre-plated, packaged, and highly processed foods with which the cafeteria presented them each day, a group of school children took it upon themselves to share the food with school administration. That moxie inspired a change in the way the Baltimore School System viewed their food program, and Tony Geraci was hired as the Food and Nutrition Director.
Geraci made sweeping changes to the food system, introducing fresh produce, freshly cooked meals, and sourcing food as locally as possible. He involved the students in learning how food is grown, how to prepare it, and how to serve it.
The empowerment and wonder on children’s faces as they taste food freshly picked from the soil is reason enough to watch the film. Witnessing their joy when they get to eat the food they’ve prepared is another.
“I can’t believe we made the salsa,” said one boy, his face beaming with pride. “It tastes like professional people made it.”
Geraci is another major reason to watch “Cafeteria Man.” He’s passionate. It’s easy to identify with him. He wants to make change. He wants that change to happen now. Just like most of us, he’s frustrated with being forced to wade through the muck of bureaucratic requirements.
When asked what his greatest challenge is, Geraci answers, “The adults – that’s the hardest part of my job.”
And he’s endearing. The job means so much to him, he’s possessed by it. It’s apparent that Geraci feels that kids deserve to experience real food.
“We need to start treating our kids like the clients that they are,” he says at a convention for the Baltimore school food workers.
“The jobs that we have are because of our kids,” he reminds everyone.
Through helping children receive one of their most fundamental needs, real food, Geraci sees himself helping the future. He sees it as a way to help the city heal itself, using food as the vehicle.
There is still a long way to go in terms of guaranteeing quality meals for school children across the country, but after watching “Cafeteria Man,” you’ll be filled with the hope and inspiration needed to keep the momentum going.