Movie Review - Cafeteria Man

WBOC's Brian Spyros reported on September 12 about Homegrown School Lunch Week. He talked to Arlene Paul, the cafeteria manager at Sandy Hill Elementary in Cambridge, about the program.

Homegrown School Lunch Week brought locally-grown food from Dorchester County into this school. It was a program being implemented in similar ways all throughout Maryland.

On September 25, a movie will play that illustrates how the idea of locally-grown food in schools started in the state. That movie will screen in conjunction with the Chesapeake Film Festival in Easton. The movie is about the cafeteria manager in Baltimore who brought locally-grown food to that city. The documentary is called simply Cafeteria Man.

Richard Chisolm directed Cafeteria Man. Chisolm attended the University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC). He taught at Johns Hopkins about which he also worked on an ABC series. In an email interview, Chisolm said his producer friend, Sheila Kinkade, read about this Baltimore cafeteria manager in December 2008.

That cafeteria manager was Tony Geraci, and Chisolm decided to document Geraci from January 2009 to January 2011. It was in that time that Geraci held the position of Food & Nutrition Director for Baltimore's schools. He wanted to address the student complaints about the schools' cafeteria food as well as the issue of childhood obesity. His solution was to get kids eating more fresh fruits and vegetables from local vendors.

This is of course not a radically new idea, but it is one that goes against, as Chisolm states, "a complex history of government and corporate mass production that dates back to the 60s." Spoiler alert! Chisolm ends his movie with an announcement that on December 13, 2010, the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act was signed into law, which sets guidelines that Geraci wanted.

Chisolm and his team captured about 60 hours of footage, visiting twenty or so different city schools. There is no narration. We see the anecdotal steps that Geraci takes to introduce students who have never had fresh peaches or have never been on a farm.

Chisolm does provide testimonials from the students themselves. One poignant account comes from a kid who said in the first three minutes, "I ate it [meaning the bad cafeteria food] because I was hungry and I had nothing to eat and I didn't bring lunch everyday, so that was the only food I had." This in itself opens up a world of questions about the food that students are eating not only in school but at home.

But, Chisolm says that essentially schools were failing Maryland's children in terms of providing them a healthy, well-balanced meal. He says, "Profit motivation and 'efficiency' dominated the last 50 years of American school food, at the expense of real nutrition and child health." He also says, "It will take years to unravel the old system and to fully reform it."

Yet, that is not quite the spirit of this movie, nor really is it the spirit of Geraci. He's like a ball of positivity. He seems eager and passionate about this issue. It's a bit of a shame that the filmmakers stay narrowly focused on this issue to the exclusion of giving us more information about Geraci personally. Aside from a love of boating, which you see Geraci doing in the beginning and the end, we get nothing more of Geraci's life outside the cafeteria.

Three Stars out of Five.
Not Rated But Recommended for All.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 5 mins.

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