School Food Focus: NYC Food Based Community Organization Spotlight

by Alexina Cather, MPH

What they do: School Food Focus works on both the demand and supply sides of school food — connecting school districts, food producers and suppliers, and government — to drive change for the health of our children and the planet.

How they do it: The organization works to transform school food by engaging government, collaborating with food producers, connecting school districts, inspiring school leaders, and bringing everyone to the table.

Mission: “School Food Focus is the national collaborative that ignites change in our food system by working on both the demand and supply sides of school food. Together, we’re changing the way school food is produced and purchased so that every child in the U.S. — regardless of income or race — has access to delicious, nutritious school meals.”

Latest project/campaign: With thousands of products on the school food market, many with long and unwieldy ingredient lists, selecting products that fit limited budgets that are both delicious and nutritious can be a challenge. The School Food Focus Ingredient Guide for Better School Food Purchasing is an essential resource  for schools and manufacturers who are committed to improving the overall quality, nutritional value, and safety of food provided to children. The guide includes a list of “unwanted ingredients” such as artificial colors and preservatives that are possible carcinogens and should be eliminated from products. The “watch list” includes ingredients that can be a red flag as they are common in foods of lower nutritional quality, and tend to indicate a highly processed food.

Major Funding: J.R. Albert Foundation, Kaiser Permanente, Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, Pew Charitable Trusts, The Kresge Foundation, W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

Profit/nonprofit: Nonprofit

Annual budget: School Food Focus is a fiscally sponsored project of Tides Center, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and the nation’s largest fiscal sponsor.

Interesting fact about how they are working to positively affect the food system: Did you know schools spend $1 billion dollars on chicken every year?

School Food Focus believes is essential that we use these dollars wisely to purchase chicken that supports health — from farm to fork. The problem is that most poultry production in this country relies heavily on the overuse of antibiotics. This overuse of antibiotics is recognized as a public health hazard, as it leads to antibiotic resistance, which renders many essential medicines ineffective when we and our kids need it the most.

We believe our kids deserve better. That’s why School Food Focus created the Certified Responsible Antibiotic Use (CRAU) standard to replace conventionally produced chicken and strengthen our schools’ power to purchase products that are healthier for children and the planet. CRAU eliminates the overuse of medically important antibiotics and provides an essential level of transparency and accountability lacking in the school food market. It is an important first step in transforming the way chicken is produced in this country, laying a solid foundation for responsible production practices.


Location: Manhattan

Core Programs: Schools collectively spend over $16 billion per year to feed our nation’s school children. School Food Focus works with 45 school districts across the country, totaling over 7,800 schools. Together we wield over $600 million in purchasing power, demonstrating what can happen when school districts coordinate their purchasing power and put market pressure on food companies to provide healthier products for our nation’s school children. That’s why we collaborate with partners across the school food system – school districts, food producers and processors, and government – to leverage school purchasing power and increase the production of healthy food choices. Our innovative approach proves it’s possible to transform school food and support the health of our children, our local economies and our environment. School Food Focus believes that by driving change in school food, we change our children’s future.

Number of staff: 14

Number of volunteers: N/A

Areas served: All five boroughs and nationally

Date started: 2008

Director: Toni Liquori

Contact, (646) 619-1149


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