the lunch love community documentary project

The Lunch Love Community Documentary Project

Tue 19 Apr 2011

Story by Helen De Michiel

What happens when a community pays attention to its children’s school food offerings? In the 1990s an adventurous group of parents, chefs, teachers and food advocates started meeting in Berkeley, California to change the system because it wasn’t working for children in this diverse and multi-ethnic city across the bay from San Francisco.

Over several years, they created the ground-breaking 1999 Berkeley Food Policy. After the policy was adopted by the city’s school board, it led to the Berkeley School Lunch Initiative – one of the most deeply-rooted and transformative school nutrition programs in the US.

Independent thinking and creativity about film and food have a long and rich history here in Berkeley. As a local parent, I was aware of the work that Chef Alice Waters was doing for the school lunch program in Berkeley. However, I knew nothing of the backbreaking kitchen labor, political strategizing, and persistent will that the School Food Committee faced through crushing obstacles and conflict. They worked through it all, and in time, succeeded in developing a solid K-12 school food initiative that now integrates cooking and gardening classes into the academic curriculum.

After a decade of building a network for this change to happen, the committee, the school district and the Chez Panisse Foundation hired school lunch reformer Chef Ann Cooper, the “Lunch Lady”, who accepted a three year contract to rebuild the dysfunctional school food infrastructure. She quickly replaced frozen Extremo Burritos, Chicken Nuggets and Pizza Pockets with fresh homemade salad bars and an inviting menu of freshly made items from Berkeley’s diverse ethnic cultures.

The unfolding story of these visionary individuals trying to change institutions, policies and the ways that children and families approach food was so full of nuanced and provocative issues that I was captivated, and dove in to make it my next documentary project.

As new mobile and broadband technologies have taken off in the last few years, my co-producer, Sophie Constantinou and I started talking about how to harness the power of the internet before completing the hour-long documentary I’ve been planning all along. In 2010 we saw public interest in food reform take off, and we decided to create a mosaic of short web films - each different in theme and style - that would explore the Berkeley School Lunch story as it was growing and changing in front of us.

There are now seven short 3-6 minute stories on the Lunch Love Community Documentary Project website. We call it creative, participatory storytelling for an online, mobile, and time-stretched world -- like appetizers before the main meal. Anyone visiting Lunch Love Community online can watch, share, embed, show and use our web films freely.

We’re leveraging new social media spaces to trigger new and rich conversations about how to turn a feeling or idea (“we’ve got to get that horrible processed food out of the cafeteria”) into hopeful community action (“let’s form a committee and work with other folks to get going”). Throughout the year, we’ll continue to post new webisodes monthly, and work to deepen our networks with food reform advocates around the world.

We’ve discovered that the films are not only fun and lovely to watch, but are important tools for making connections and helping people imagine what they might do next in their own neighborhoods and communities.

A potluck dinner with friends and neighbors, a few short web stories from Berkeley to watch and share, and some time to talk about what to do next and when to meet again. That’s what we want Lunch Love Community to inspire – a powerful thing - like a revolution.

Please watch, share and use our videos at and contact us there if you have ideas, questions or comments.

About the author: Independent filmmaker and writer Helen De Michiel lives, works, cooks and eats in Berkeley, California.


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