One typically would not associate the word "renegade" with a chef, unless you consider Gordon Ramsay from the TV Show Hell's Kitchen more renegade than actor. However, Chef Ann Cooper has earned the title of "Renegade Chef" by tirelessly championing the cause of healthy food for children. In a culture where the nutritious value of food has become an afterthought, Chef Ann's passion for creating healthier school lunches make her classification as "renegade" an accurate one.
Chef Ann has over 30 years of culinary experience and is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY. She has worked as head chef at renowned restaurants, been featured throughout the press and media (including as a speaker on TED Talks- see video below), and even received an honorary doctorate from State University of New York (SUNY) Cobleskill for her work on sustainable agriculture. Chef Ann has transferred her culinary know-how into efforts that make healthy school meals a reality for all children. Her interest in school food was sparked by the authoring of her book Bitter Harvest, which explores how food can negatively impact our health. She is the perfect voice for the school food revolution as her chef skills are combined with her school cafeteria experience, having served as Food Service Director for school districts in California and New York. She currently is the Director of Nutrition Services of the Boulder Valley School District in Colorado and sometimes comes in at 4 am to start preparing school meals.
Chef Ann advocates for healthier school food through the Food Family Farming Foundation (F3), which she founded in 2009. The purpose of the foundation is to empower schools to serve nutritious whole food to students. F3 is focused on two projects, one of which is called Let's Move Salad Bars to Schools. Studies have shown that children increase their daily consumption of fruits and vegetables when offered multiple choices. Let's Move Salad Bars to Schools would like to award 6,000 salad bars to schools across the country within the next three years. As the name suggests, this project is an effort to support First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move! initiative. F3's other project, The Lunch Box, is a web-based portal that demonstrates how all schools can make a difference in improving school meals. This toolkit of resources features menus and recipes, instructional cooking videos, updates on nutrition news, and guides on implementing healthier practices in school lunchrooms.
President Harry Truman once said that, "No nation is healthier than its children or more prosperous than its farmers." This belief led Truman to start the National School Lunch Program in 1946. More than 75 years later, Chef Ann is from a similar school of thought and believes that, "It should be a birthright in our country that every child, every day have healthy, delicious food in school." It will take a concerted effort by everyone including students, teachers, parents, and community members to transform school meals. If everybody focuses on one thing that they can do to contribute to the cause of healthier school food, then according to Chef Ann, "being a chef working to feed children fresh, delicious, and nourishing food will no longer be considered 'renegade'." If that happens, maybe she'll be known simply as "Just Chef Ann."