Off Topic: The Cost of Lunch

One can argue that making wine is not exactly solving the world’s problems.  Thankfully, my profession is redeemed by my industrious customers who do change the world in profound ways; and they definitely deserve a great glass of wine with dinner.

I had the recent honor of visiting with two of them–sisters who teach kids where food comes from.

Bistro Kids GirlsWhat would you pay for your kids to enjoy a healthy, delicious lunch of fresh ingredients, prepared by folks you trust, served daily?  In Kansas and Missouri –yes, progressive thinking in America’s heartland–two young sisters have been bringing fun along with healthy lunches to kids in local schools for eight years now.  Long before Jamie Oliver (who I adore) took on school administrators with ABC’s “Food Revolution,” and before Michelle Obama planted a veggie garden at the White House, “Bistro Kids” has been quietly making it happen.  They don’t spend time marketing and attracting media attention; they just do it.  Now with 25 chefs on the payroll, they “have it wired,” founder Kirsten Firquain, “Chef K,” told me as she was relaxing with her sister Merrill after a class at the Culinary Institute in Napa Valley.  These girls created a lunch program not bistro kids watermelon porcupineonly serving kid-friendly food, but engaging young students with both the chefs who prepare it and the local farmers who grow it.

“Now that you’ve got it ‘wired,’ why not consult for other districts?” I asked.  “They don’t want to pay for it,” she tells me.  Being the businesswoman I am, I have to ask the price difference.  How much more does a healthy meal, prepared onsite, from chef-created seasonal recipes cost?  About $5 per day vs $3 per day for frozen nuggets, frozen pizza and frozen french fries.  Food cost is the same, she said; the additional cost is the onsite labor–right there in the school where the kids can see it happening.  i.e., more local jobs.  A community win-win for $2/day per kid.

Seriously, what is the cost of NOT investing that extra $2?

– Obesity and markers for heart disease and diabetes?

– Allergies?

– Trips to the doctor, medications?

– Lack of concentration in school from sugar highs and lows?

– Lost sales by local farmers and purveyors?

– Fewer local jobs in the school kitchen?

– Adding to landfills with plastic and other containers for processed foods?

Good grief.  If she had said $13 vs $3, maybe I’d feel differently.  So, here’s a bright young lady with a proven model that’s working all over her state.  She and her sister attend the Culinary Institute of America Worlds of Flavor conference every year for inspiration and meet cooks from all over the country.  Other school districts should be knocking down their door for consultation to help set up the Bistro Kids “Farm 2 School” program in their district, but, alas, in this country, we’d rather not invest $2 on food, we’d rather spend it–and more–on illness, medicine, plastic, and all the environmental cleanup required by an industrial food machine on overdrive.  Do I seem to have an opinion here?

Granted not every family has an extra $40/month to contribute.  But step back; I argue those are the same families and kids who receive community-supported “health care” services, i.e., doctor visits and prescriptions.  What’s the value to the local community and economy of an educated kid who eats real food and learns to cook!   I love that Michael Pollan reminds us a home-cooked meal of sustainably farmed food is not more expensive if you just learn how to cook it yourself.  Imagine if we considered “health care” to include “healthful eating.”  Now THERE’s a concept…  Only $2/day more for a child to grow up learning that delicious food comes from the kitchen, prepared by people they know, using ingredients grown by farmers they can visit.

All I can say is I Love These Girls.


About Emily Richer

Investment banker turned right banker.
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1 Response to Off Topic: The Cost of Lunch

  1. Emily,

    Great article! Those women are doing something wonderful! How about adding a Share on FB button?

    I’ll be heading off to Burning Man in a couple of weeks (for 3 weeks), but would love to see you again one of these days. Any more Bay Area trips in your near future?


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