Renegade lunch lady saving kids' lives, one plate at a time

By Fran Fifis

(CNN) -- Ann Cooper is on a one-woman whirlwind campaign to change the way kids eat in schools. "We're killing our kids with food," she says.

Ann Cooper sees her work transforming school lunch programs as a way to leave a lasting impact.

Half of all the Hispanic and African-American kids born in 2000 and one-third of Caucasian kids will have diabetes in their lifetime, many before they graduate college, Cooper says, citing U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics. "It's all because of what we are feeding them," she says. "It's all preventable."

Cooper, self-proclaimed renegade lunch lady and chef, is actively working against what she describes as entrenched interests -- fast-food companies and junk-food producers -- that she says profit from selling unhealthy foods to schools. They're "basically making money off our children's health and their future," she says. "I'm just so pissed off."

She wasn't always this way. Cooper used to be a big-shot celebrity chef who worked at tony resorts, on cruise ships, for hotel chains and prestigious film festivals. She's won numerous awards and is on boards for executive chefs, women chefs and the Alumni Committee of the Culinary Institute of America.

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