Healthy food advocates took to Capitol Hill last week to show lawmakers and their staff that school food can be cooked from scratch, healthy and antibiotic-free — without spending a lot of money.

cookingupchange.jpgSix high school students from the Chicago Vocational Career Academy (CVCA), who competed in the Healthy Schools Campaign’s Cooking up Change, whipped up oven-“fried” chicken, raised without antibiotics, greens, cabbage, and sweet potato salad, a meal that cost around $1 per serving and meets school lunch nutritional guidelines.

Their food was served to those attending a policy briefing on the House side and was added to the Congressional cafeteria menu last Thursday.

Last year, Chicago Public Schools, the third largest school district in the country, purchased 1.2 million pounds of chicken raised without antibiotics from Miller Amish Country Poultry in Indiana to serve at 473 local schools. School Food FOCUS and the Pew Campaign on Human Health and Industrial Farming, the advocates who organized the briefing last week, are hoping to help more school districts follow suit.  

The groups said CPS’ purchase, which was the first and largest of its kind for American public schools, was made “in recognition of the danger that the overuse of antibiotics in livestock production poses to public health and to children in particular.”

School Food FOCUS and Pew partnered with Whole Foods, the Healthy Schools Campaign, and Chartwells-Thompson Hospitality (CPS’ primary food service provider) to coordinate the chicken deal.

“Our future health depends on using antibiotics conservatively, but some of the largest meat and poultry producers are overusing these drugs,” said Laura Rogers, director of the Pew Campaign on Human Health and Industrial Farming. “We are grateful to Chicago Public Schools and the talented young students of CVCA for encouraging responsible meat and poultry production.”

Pew and others have urged the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to take more aggressive action to limit the use of antibiotics in animal agriculture. According to the recent estimates, around 80 percent of all antibiotics sold in the United States each year are fed to food animals — and unknown percentage of which is used to improve feed efficiency and promote growth, rather than to treat or control disease.

“These students can teach all of us an important lesson about protecting public health for future generations,” said Laura Stanley, Learning Lab Manager at School Food FOCUS. “We’re inspired by their confidence, talent, and commitment to this cause, and we are honored to have them working with us.”

Pictured: Six winning student-chefs from Chicago Vocational Career Academy posing in front of Washington, D.C.’s capitol, photo courtesy of School Food FOCUS.