What do Hugh Acheson, archivists, dietitians and Brussels sprouts all have in common?
Why school lunch, of course.
On Saturday, March 19, the University of Georgia Richard B. Russell Library sponsored the second annual School Lunch Challenge which pits local restaurants against one another in a competition to create meals that fit school lunch standards, prices, and time constraints.
This year, The Pine, The National, Pulaski Heights BBQ, and a group of family and consumer science teachers from the Clarke County School District faced off for the event, which was emceed by Top Chef judge and Athens dad, Hugh Acheson.
Jill Severn, the head of access and outreach for the library, explained the relationship between the odd couple of library and lunch.
In 1946, the library’s namesake, Georgia Senator Richard B. Russell, helped create the National School Lunch Program by co-sponsoring the National School Lunch Act, Severn said. The original School Lunch Challenge last year was then sparked by the library’s Food, Power, and Politics: The Story of School Lunch exhibit.
While the exhibit is no longer up, Severn said they hope to continue sponsoring the event and, “splashing out [archived] items we have related to food policy.”
This year’s event was free and open to the public and brought together a cross-section of parents, kids, and community members interested in food.
Each attendee had the chance to sample dishes from the competitors, including The Pine’s enchilada casserole with southwestern rice and black bean salad, Pulaski’s beef and black bean chili, The National’s vegetarian chili mac and the teachers’ chicken and spinach pasta with lemon cream sauce.
The audience ranked the reigning champions from The National first and the teachers second, but the kid vote — which determined the true winner — placed the teachers first and The National in second place.
For their work, the teachers earned a swanky, foam-sticker-bedazzled school lunch tray, and the chance for their dish to become part of the Clarke County school lunch menu for next year.
In addition to the main-stage competition, the event included tabling by local organizations such as the Athens Land Trust and the Athens Farmers Market as well as health-focused games brought by UGA dietetics students.
Volunteers from the Northeast Georgia Dietetics Association also kept a number of food demonstrations running throughout.
Acheson took to a mobile stovetop to show kids how to make a five-ingredient “egg in a hole” with a topping of Brussels sprouts.
“Sadly, when you put a beet in front a 14 year old, they rarely know what it is, but if you can catch kids when they are young and are like sponges, that is great,” said Acheson, the founder of Seed Life Skills, an organization trying to breathe new life into home economics.
Acheson is a parent of two Clarke Middle School students and said he believes school lunch programs are “up against a mountain,” increasingly serving as the breakfast, lunch and dinner sources for students.
He said he came to support the event as a way to give back.
“I think engagement within your community is important,” Acheson said. “I happen to be a chef, but if I were a dentist or artist or postal worker I would want to do the same thing. It is a realization that if you are a part of a community you should work to make things better.”
Luckily, Acheson is not the only chef joining the fight to revolutionize school lunch. Others are taking part as well. In December, renowned chef Daniel Giusti left his restaurant in Copenhagen to launch Brigaid, a school lunch program which will start its work in Connecticut.
For the sake of youngsters across the country, we can’t wait to see what all these food fighters achieve.