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School daze

I SUPPOSE IT is unsporting – or perhaps just piling on – to criticize an institution as beleaguered as the San Francisco Unified School District. But on the other hand, it seems bizarre, to say the very least, that education bureaucrats in San Francisco, of all places, should reject a proposed (and cost-free) course in food culture on the ground that it does not "align" with the district's academic priorities, whatever they might be.

The program in question is Days of Taste, an outreach of the American Institute of Wine and Food. It is based on a French program called Journée du Gout and was brought to the United States in 1994 under the auspices of Julia Child; it rests on the assumption – hardly a trivial one, in an age of dangerous fast food-driven obesity – that "taste and health go hand in hand."

The basic idea of the program is, accordingly, to expose fourth and fifth graders to food realities other than McNuggets and Pepsi. The program (whose costs are entirely underwritten by local AIWF chapters) includes a visit with a local farmer, a trip to a restaurant, the preparation of a harvest salad, and an explanation of the various tastes and how they interact.

Public schools from Rhode Island to Orange County have found value in the program and participated in it, perhaps recognizing that part of any proper education in our hypertechnocracy is, or should be, teaching children about humankind's relationship with the earth that sustains us. And perhaps in a strange way it is fitting that Days of Taste should have a rough go here, for San Francisco is both a food and a techno city, a place where much of the population, while noisily celebrating the earth, is very much about the business of getting rich by dominating it.

AIWF board member Jane Brady, who heads Days of Taste for the institute's northern California chapter, isn't really taking no for an answer. She has spent the winter approaching schools, restaurateurs, and markets one by one (in a process known to politicians as "retailing"), and she has had some success. (She is also looking for child-size toques, to be presented as tokens of participation.) With luck, she'll sooner or later have more success, since, no matter what the SFUSD says, there is no more universally compelling subject than nutrition, with its pleasures and responsibilities, its centrality to cultural history, its cradle-to-grave relevance. The real days of taste are all the days of our lives.

Oops: In my review of Home (Feb. 13), I misidentified farro as a pasta. It is in fact a whole grain whose long history includes its use as a staple by the Roman legions.

Paul Reidinger paulr@sfbg.com