Brazilian Day lunch goes beyond the cafeteria and into the classroom

MVRHS will serve traditional Brazilian food once a month to celebrate many students’ cultural heritage.

Rachaya Jette, center, opts for the Brazilian lunch option. — Stacey Rupolo

Last Thursday, Dec. 22, students enjoyed traditional Brazilian food during their first Brazilian Day at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School. The lunch-period program aims to teach students about Brazilian culture and history through food, the school garden, and the classroom.

Will Conway, Island Grown Schools (IGS) coordinator for MVRHS, told The Times that he and Bernadette Cormie, the director of food service for the high school, along with MVRHS Principal Sara Dingledy, have been working together to make the cafeteria “the best it can be.”

IGS is an organization that works with all of the Island schools, promoting garden-based learning and the importance of locally sourced and sustainable food systems. IGS and Mr. Conway thought serving Brazilian food would be a step in the right direction.

“A food system, and a local food system, should absolutely reflect the community that it serves,” Mr. Conway said. “And by living here, you see that there’s a Brazilian population, and I thought that they should be represented in the school food that’s served every day.”

He went to the Brazilian language classes and had students come up with a menu plan. Ms. Cormie said they tweaked the recipes slightly to follow state nutritional guidelines — substituting leaner meat for traditional salted pork or bacon, for example. With the help of school chef Lawrence Layton and Amanda Patricio, MVRHS had its first Brazilian Day. The lunches will now take place once a month.

The menu on Thursday included roasted pork, mayonnaise potato salad, rice and beans with cassava and plantains, and collard greens salad.

Gabe Nascimento, who is in 11th grade, said he was excited to share Brazilian food with fellow students. “I think it’s really good for people to actually taste our food,” he told The Times.

Brianna De Oliveira, also in 11th grade, shared in the excitement as a group of Brazilian students sat together at one of the tables in the cafeteria, thoroughly enjoying their school lunches.

“You’re the man!” she told Mr. Conway.

Gabe said his favorite dish was salpicão, a traditional Brazilian dish that he and Brianna described as a chicken salad with diced apples, corn, peas, mayonnaise, and lime juice. They said it could be eaten on bread or served as a side or an appetizer.

IGS program leader Noli Taylor said that the goal of their programs is to take a comprehensive approach. They utilize not only school lunches, but also the classroom and the school garden as opportunities to teach students about food traditions and agricultural heritage.

“Food traditions are such a powerful way to bring a community together,” Ms. Taylor said in a conversation with The Times last Friday. “In the schools we have a great opportunity to showcase the different food traditions of our students, and I’m so happy that the high school is embracing the different cultural heritages of the students.”

At the curricular level, IGS teaches students about Brazilian agricultural heritage. Before coming up with a curriculum, Mr. Conway told The Times, he met with Brazilian students to learn about their experiences. Now he works with the Brazilian history classes at MVRHS. He teaches students about Brazil’s Landless Workers Movement, Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra (MST). The ongoing social movement was begun by rural workers in 1984 to fight for land reform and against social inequality in rural areas of Brazil.

Students also grow traditional Brazilian crops in the school gardens: black beans, Brazilian kale, and okra. The Farm Project, a teen apprenticeship program at IGS, grew two gallons of black beans this fall. They donated them to a fundraiser hosted by the Brazilian language department.

Brazilian Day lunch at MVRHS highlights inclusivity and celebrates students’ cultural heritages through a vehicle that, regardless of a person’s background, has a way of bringing people together: food.

“The Brazilian community is a tight-knit group that has a presence and plays a role in the community,” Mr. Conway said. “Food is a great way to celebrate that.”