Berkeley Students May 'Eat Up' New Classes

At schools in Berkeley, Calif. (search), lunch isn’t just being served anymore — it’s being taught.

Over the next three years, Berkeley’s 10,000 public school students will be learning about nutritious food and healthy cooking — and getting class credit for it just like for history and math classes.

For instance, kids might study organic farming as part of biology or write recipes in English while growing — and eating — healthier meals.

The program is getting $4 million in seed money from America’s most vocal supporter of organic food, renowned Chez Panisse chef and owner, Alice Waters (search). She contends that understanding what’s good for lunch is essential education.

"Kids learn how to cook and they learn how to garden. They learn how to sit at the table and communicate with each other. To me, it is like an elementary education," she said. "It's more important that reading, writing and arithmetic."

But California assemblyman Ray Haynes (search) is having trouble swallowing the idea of giving class credit for lunch — especially at a time when thousands of students in California can’t read or write at a third grade level.

"This is a serious attempt to try and gyp the kids out of certain amount of classroom time. They want to include lunch as classroom time. Under state law right now they can’t. They’re trying to figure out how to skirt state law and hurt kids in the process," he said. "The purpose of school is to learn how to read and write, not how to eat.”

Supporters argue that encouraging students to eat healthy is part of a well-balanced educational experience, and can help fight the growing problem of childhood obesity by encouraging alternatives to the pre-packaged meals and processed foods.

There's no dispute over whether or not it's a good idea to teach kids better eating habits. The question is whether these lessons are an appropriate use of class time — or just empty academic calories.

Click on the video box at the top of this story to watch a report by FOX News' Claudia Cowan.