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Ditching Tater Tots For Kale: The 'Cafeteria Man' Transforms School Menus

Tony Geraci


Tony Geraci is best known as "Cafeteria Man." He is on a mission to transform menus at school cafeterias and give students healthier options. He launched a farm-to-school program in Contoocook N.H. Then he went on to make changes in larger school systems in Baltimore and Memphis.

Geraci employs unconventional tactics to move schools away from frozen chicken nuggets and gravy from a tin. Within the tight budgetary constraints of a school cafeteria, he finds ways to source organic food. He teaches cafeteria employees ways to make fresh food from scratch. And he has buy-in from students: he asks for their opinion on the new options.

A film highlights the drive and work of "The Cafeteria Man":

The Washington Post describes Geraci's work in the Baltimore school system:

If Geraci were a character on "The Wire," he would be heroic, and he would fail. The HBO drama depicted the Baltimore schools as chronically overwhelmed, with staff members who lacked the authority to effect change. Geraci has the will, plus boundless energy and an unorthodox style. He's not only running Baltimore's school food service, he's campaigning for it. Like a politician on the stump, Geraci tells stories that have a message: It's the kids, stupid. Students deserve to eat delicious, healthful meals. And those meals help students learn.

Following his success in Baltimore, he moved to Tennessee to transform menus for Memphis public schools. Geraci was in Pittsboro earlier this week, talking with community leaders about his current work. Organizers of the event described him this way:

Tony is currently the Director of Nutrition Services for Shelby County Schools, TN where he serves over 160,000 children in 221 schools. Since his arrival, the Breakfast in the Classroom program has more than doubled. He has implemented the At-Risk Supper Meal Program which provides meals to after school programs. The At-Risk Supper Program is the first for the State of Tennessee. Tony has expanded the Farm to School program as well. Schools are serving more locally grown produce as a direct result of his grass roots efforts. Fresh fruits and vegetables are offered as a healthy choice for all children every day. Chef salads are made fresh daily and delivered to all school sites from the central kitchen which Tony oversees. The central kitchen also bakes bread from scratch and various cook-chill items.

The State of Things host Frank Stasio talks with Geraci about his success and the challenges of bringing nutritious options to students.

Carol Jackson has been with WUNC since 2006. As Digital News Editor, she writes stories for, and helps reporters and hosts make digital versions of their radio stories. She is also responsible for sharing stories on social media. Previously, Carol spent eight years with WUNC's nationally syndicated show The Story with Dick Gordon, serving as Managing Editor and Interim Senior Producer.
Laura Lee was the managing editor of The State of Things until mid February 2017. Born and raised in Monroe, North Carolina, Laura returned to the Old North state in 2013 after several years in Washington, DC. She received her B.A. in political science and international studies from UNC-Chapel Hill in 2002 and her J.D. from UNC-Chapel Hill School of Law in 2007.
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