Awesome things are happening in Oakland, California. Tucked away on West Street, The Center is a soon-to-launch central kitchen, education center and instructional farm that will be a hub for district-wide school programming connecting nutrition to planet and plate. Featuring a state of the art kitchen, gardening center and educational hub, The Center will provide 30K meals to 38K students daily across 82 schools in Oakland Unified School District.
In addition to providing school meals, the team at The Center is now creating programming to tackle issues of food security and accessibility for local communities. From test kitchens that provide classes for students to a living laboratory where students can experience urban agriculture first hand, The Center aims to be a central resource contributing to STEM education, professional development, expanded learning and more. This monumental effort has been over 10 years in the making and their goal is simple: to get more kids to eat nutritious food.
As a Bay Area-based mission-driven company who is working to transform the global food system, Impossible Foods was excited to visit The Center to learn more about their programming and donate Impossible™ Burger for the students to try.
The goal is simple: to get more kids to eat nutritious food.
As Michelle Oppen, Director of Programming puts it, "In addition to providing healthy meals, we’re focusing on supporting education around the district with our programming. The first initiative we launched was our summer internship program teaching 15 high school students how to garden, cook and gain marketable life skills they can use after graduation. We are also building partnerships with other organizations so we can turn this center into a local field trip destination for students to learn about healthy eating, food justice and sustainability."
Sarah Pipping, Education Coordinator adds, “We believe that it’s not enough to just change food served at school because without education, you can’t be sure that kids will eat it. Our programs aren’t just about nutrition, but getting the students’ hands in the dirt so they see how food grows. We’re still in the planning phase, but we’re also piloting new programs to promote environmental education, adult programming, professional development for teachers and even cooking classes with parents. Our vision is to make The Center a living laboratory where local communities can learn about sustainability, climate resilience, food and wellness.
"Our vision is to make The Center a living laboratory where local communities can learn about sustainability, climate resilience, food and wellness.” - Sarah Pipping, Education Coordinator
Bringing sustainable food to K-12 schools
As part of the summer internship, the high schoolers are learning how to grow their own vegetables, examining proposed legislation like ‘The Green New Deal’ and planning, preparing and plating delicious meals. They’re even getting to make an impact on the menu -- the winners of the internship’s cooking contest will see their meal incorporated into Oakland School District menus this fall!
To prepare for the big event, the students had a competition to see who could create the best burger with Impossible™ meat made from plants, and the final products were remarkable. From planning the build to growing the vegetables, making the sauces and grilling or sauteing Impossible Burger, the students worked in pairs to oversee every last detail.
The winning build? An Impossible Burger stuffed with cheese, topped with a blend of BBQ sauce and hot sauce, and garnished with chopped onions and pickles.
Here are what a few of the students thought about cooking with Impossible Burger:
Octavio - 16 (winner of the competition)
"This was my first time cooking with Impossible Burger and I really enjoyed it! It smells and cooks very similarly to beef. There is a slight difference in taste, but I would definitely recommend it to my friends over a beef burger because it’s more sustainable. I think we need to move forward with smart food that has a positive impact on the environment."
Uzifah - 16
“I didn’t notice a difference. Cooking with Impossible Burger was like cooking with beef, except it was a bit stickier and more pink. I actually really liked it because it’s better for the planet and has less negative impacts on the body than a beef burger -- I think it’s definitely worth a try for anyone who’s curious."
Aaryn - 17
“It tasted like a real burger - you don’t really taste the difference at all. That’s good because I don’t want to eat a tofu burger or something that tastes like a vegetable. It was also really easy to grill and was like cooking with ground beef. I would definitely recommend they try it because you can’t eat ground beef your whole life! Sourcing is really important to me and knowing it’s plant-based makes me feel better about what I’m eating."
Students, faculty and Impossible Foods representatives judged the competition