Betti Wiggins | Food Forward | PBS Food

Food Rebel: Betti Wiggins



Occupation Executive Director of the Child Nutrition Program at Detroit Public Schools Location Detroit, Michigan Favorite Food Sweet potato pie Rebel Story What peaked my interest was when I was watching C-SPAN one day, and the Secretary of the Army came up and said that 25% of the recruits have had to be rejected because of diseases related to diet. And then I looked around, and I started looking around in my lunchroom, and I saw those kids. I saw six-year-olds with hypertension. I saw kids lining up at water fountains taking drugs for diabetes, and I said, “Wait a minute. So am I part of this problem?” And then at the same time the Institute of Medicine came out and said, “Here are the new standards,” and I said, “Well they’re reasonable, so let’s see we can do.” So we just started looking around and saying, how best can we utilize our dollars to feed kids better? And to do some of the things that are necessary to help have an impact on childhood obesity.


What is your role in the Detroit Public Schools lunch program? My leadership role, I think is that of being the visionary to ensure that we provide kids with healthy meals, we support our community, and we support the local economy with buying local, and doing the things that bring value back to the city of Detroit. What does your job mean for students? If you go to a public school in Detroit, or charter school, or any school that DPS serves, you will receive a free breakfast, and a free lunch, and if you have an After School Program, in support of academic achievement, we provide you with a supper. One of the things that we’ve seen is that attendance has gone up. Antisocial behavior has gone down cause we’re all eating the same thing. I’m not standing in the free land, and you’re not this. And it’s been a good thing. It’s been a good thing, and we’re sure reducing food insecurity, at least, you know, 171 days out of the year, or whatever the school calendar happens to be. What is the future of school lunch? The future of food in schools is almost like compulsory education. We need to do that. We need to provide that support. If you believe at all in Maslow’s hierarchy of need, then we’re right there. I’m right there at the base, and I’m happy to be there, because as we say in public school, “You know, the buses will come. The kids’ll get off, they’ll enter classrooms that are safe and clean. They will be fed, and thereafter teaching and learning begins.” And that’s how important food is. Good food. Good, quality food.

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