Cafeteria boycott is the wrong target

I just came across this news story from Boston, about a planned cafeteria boycott by students at suburban Medford High School. Students contend that the lunches they are served are unhealthy and that they are served meat that supermarkets are not allowed to sell.

The district Superintendent disputes these claims, according to the report:

Federal law requires the district to take more precautions than commercial markets when preparing and serving food, and lunch menu selections have less sodium, less fat, and fewer additives than the same items at the grocery store.

And, he said, the menu offers no fried food, no snack-cakes or other unhealthy desserts, and very few processed meats.

For $2.85, students get their choice of a pizza, salad, hot entree, or sandwich to accompany a fruit and a vegetable, he said.

This sounds a lot like the menu here in San Francisco, where we have eliminated high-fat entrees like corn dogs and taco pockets, and replaced them with meals that are lower in fat, featuring whole grains and fresh fruits and vegetables. Still, our students also complain about the quality of the food (and, ironically, about the small portion sizes — shades of Annie Hall.)   The meal prices in Medford are comparable to ours as well (our full-price high school meal is $3).

Could the food be better? Yes, but not without significant increases in funding. That’s why it’s frustrating to see student advocacy like the Medford boycott aimed at the wrong target. I don’t know much about Medford, but if it’s anything like SFUSD, such an effort would only end up hurting students — because it would result in wasted food (which means wasted money that otherwise could be spent on something else). Additionally, in SFUSD too many of our students have no other reliable source of nutritious food. For those students, participating in a boycott simply means they are forgoing needed calories.

So if a boycott is a lousy idea, what steps could students or others take to improve the quality of school nutrition in SFUSD? Right now there is a golden opportunity to increase the funding that districts in high-cost areas (like San Francisco) receive to serve meals to students, as the Child Nutrition Act will be reauthorized in 2010. Click here for information (including sample letters) on writing to members of Congress urging them to increase the amount of funding for student nutrition.

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One response to “Cafeteria boycott is the wrong target

  1. Bridget Collins

    Thank you so much for your words of clarity and wisdom! I am the district chef and nutritional coordinator for Medford, MA and frustrated by the misinformation and sensationalism of this situation.