New things are nice. At Morris Township’s Unity Charter School, the “new thing” is a 1,100 square foot, long awaited kitchen. “It’s bigger than my apartment,” said full-time school chef Judy Mancini, better-known as “Chef Judy” to Unity Charter School students.
Since September, the student body of 148 children had been asked to bring brown bag, sustainable (no waste) lunches until the kitchen was ready. Now, Mancini and her staff have the ability to serve the students daily vegetarian–and sometimes vegan– lunches with drink, entree and fruit (or baked desserts once a week). “It’s a lot of work, but it pays off,” says Mancini. “The welfare of our children is the most important thing, and nutrition is a huge part of that.”
Important not only for the students, but the faculty as well, according to math and science instructor Michael Braverman. At age 35, his cholesterol numbers on the “bad side” had skyrocketed. He had the number written on a piece of paper in his wallet, which he removed to show me. “My overall cholesterol was 255, my LDL (bad cholesterol) was 169, my HDL (good cholesterol) was 44, and my Triglycerides were 211." Braverman’s physician had recommended pills to him, but the patient shook his head. “I’m 35 years old. I’m not going to take pills.” Instead, he started to eat daily a vegan diet, especially while on-site at the school, and the numbers are much lower now. His overall cholesterol is 200, his LDL is 126, HDL 49, and Triglycerides are at 128. “And that,” he emphasized, “is minus exercise.”
When the school moved to its current building in September, 2010, Carolyn Mungo, who heads the school, recalls the township asking where all the dumpsters were. The small amount of waste generated by a school with a zero-waste policy and a composting program was apparently something of a surprise to the planning board. The school has one dumpster for school garbage and one for recycling.
The Unity Charter School also uses as much local food as possible, buying from a local wholesaler and getting dairy products from a grass-fed cow farm in Pennsylvania. The day of our visit, the menu consisted of cheddar cheese quesadillas, rice and beans (onions and carrots, green peppers, oregano brown rice, and tomatoes), split pea soup, with sliced oranges for dessert.
The daily menu for students – which is viewed the month prior by parents so they can choose for their child – costs $3.75 per day. With childhood obesity a concern, that’s a small price to pay for good tasting food and good health.
A previous version of this article misquoted the daily lunch price and the number of dumpsters at the school.