WHEN Dan Giusti was head chef at Denmark’s Michelin-starred Noma, regularly voted one of the world’s best restaurants, he served intricately prepared dishes with locally sourced ingredients and lavish prices.
Now he feeds thousands of underprivileged children at public schools in the United States, offering wholesome meals on a budget of US$1 (RM4.24) apiece through his consultancy firm Brigaid, which last week began training cafeteria staff at nine more schools.
Hunger is the most pressing concern at the schools where they work, although the United States’ much talked about obesity problem is a huge issue as well, Giusti said.
“The students are not eating much, if anything, outside of school... so these meals are absolutely crucial, ” he said from Connecticut, where he is based.
“We’ve seen kids trying to steal sandwiches to bring home to feed their families.”
Giusti founded Brigaid three years ago and hopes to take its services nationwide, seeing an opportunity to teach Americans what constitutes tasty, healthy food from a young age.
The chef’s big Italian family inspired him to start cooking.
“The kids that go to these public schools are attending school from a very young age all the way to 18 so you really have an opportunity to get to them in terms of feeding them and getting them to think differently about food.”
In 2018, one in nine American households or 37.2 million people were hungry, with the figure going up to one in seven in households with children, according to the US Department of Agriculture.
Globally, one in four people, or two billion, lack access to healthy food, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation has said.
A Brigaid chef currently serves three meals a day to more than 3,600 schoolchildren in eight schools in New York City and Connecticut under the National School Lunch Programme, which provides free or reduced meals.
The schools receive slightly more than US$3 (RM12.72) per lunch in subsidies from the federal government and have about US$1 (RM4.24) per meal to spend on food after covering the cost of labour, equipment and other items such as milk to drink.
This means the ingredients are not always local or organic, but that’s the reality, said Giusti.
He said he intended to speak out on issues such as a need for federal policy changes, much the way British chef Jamie Oliver spoke out to help improve school nutrition in the United Kingdom more than a decade ago.
He said he learned that changing people’s minds can take time and patience after taking peanut butter and jelly sandwiches off a school menu.
The move prompted one school boy to cry.
He said he realised the reason he stopped serving the sandwiches was his own ego.
“These are kids who are dealing with really challenging situations outside and inside of school, ” Giusti said.
“Coming to the cafeteria only to be stressed out even more because they’re being pushed to eat something they’re not familiar with, or don’t want to try, knowing they’re not going to eat until the next day, is really crazy.”
“At the end of the day we’re making it for them. It’s not for you. It’s not for me. It’s not for Instagram.” - Reuters