Talk about school lunches and many adults recoil at the memory. Ask a student and the reaction is often a big yuck. Face it, school lunches haven’t left the best taste over the years. And their nutritional value is increasingly criticized, as well.

You’ve heard some of the claims: The obesity rate among children today is twice as high as it was in the late 1970s. As many as a third of children born in 2000 will acquire type 2 diabetes. As much as 40 percent of all cancer is diet-related.

The Orfalea Fund is aiming to change all that and is serving up what it’s calling the s’Cool Food Initiative to make a difference in Santa Barbara County. The nonprofit organization is conducting a needs assessment of the county’s 116 public schools, which together serve more than 66,000 K-12 students. With the data, organizers will map out what they call “pathways and obstacles” to adding or substituting “cooked from scratch” foods and local agricultural products into school lunch programs in the county.

As part of the initiative, organizers are bringing together author and national food policy expert Marion Nestle and Supersize Me filmmaker Morgan Spurlock for a discussion about the effects of corporate practice and federal policy on children’s food, education and health.

“From my own observations, a healthy school meals program requires just three elements: a committed food service director, a supportive principle, and devoted parents,” said Nestle, a New York University nutrition and public health professor and author of Food Politics and What to Eat.

Chef Kate Adamick, director of the s’Cool Food Initiative and the discussion’s moderator, says Santa Barbara County is the ideal place to start.

“With its progressive thinkers, organic farms and dedicated community members,” she said, “(Santa Barbara County) is perfectly positioned to model healthful, sustainable eating habits in its schools and create a community of healthy children who make educated food choices throughout their lives.”

The program will begin at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Marjorie Luke Theatre, 721 E. Cota St. A pre-show reception begins at 5:30 p.m. The evening is free, courtesy of The Orfalea Fund, but reservations are required. To RSVP, click here or call 805.565.7550 x110.

A second program is scheduled for April 16, also at the Luke Theatre, at which Adamick and chef Ann Cooper will discuss Cooper’s efforts to reform the Berkeley Unified School District’s school lunch program. Working with the Chez Panisse Foundation, Cooper has brought together families, farmers, gardeners and school officials to establish one of the nation’s leading school lunch programs.

Bill Macfadyen is Noozhawk’s founder and publisher. Contact him at, and follow him on Instagram: @bill.macfadyen. The opinions expressed are his own.