HBO showcases students rethinking school lunch

Student activism brings about changes to New Orleans’ school meals.

This week HBO began showing a new series, “The Weight of the Nation,” which focuses on the growing obesity problem in this country. As a part of that series, a special kids’ episode was produced called, The Great Cafeteria Takeover. The episode featured a group of remarkable students from New Orleans’ Recovery School District (RSD).

After Hurricane Katrina, many students in New Orleans had to leave the city for other districts to attend class. During their time away from New Orleans, the students said they noticed some aspects of their new schools were different than those in New Orleans. The students formed The Rethinkers to attempt to affect positive change in their district, the Recovery School District.

One of the main issues The Rethinkers took on was school lunch. The group went to schools and talked with students about what they liked and didn’t like in their meals program. Based on those conversations and surveys filled out by students, The Rethinkers created a school report card for each of the surveyed schools. The highest grade for school meals on the first year’s report cards was a B-.

The group, whose motto is “Feet to the Fire,” received major props when the RSD mandated in its contract with Aramark, the district’s foodservice provider, that the company work with The Rethinkers.

The Rethinkers scored a meeting with Aramark executives, including Cathy Schlosberg, Aramark’s vice president of marketing. The students voiced their concerns and began a partnership with the multimillion-dollar corporation. After the sit-down it would have been easy for both groups to say ‘great conversation’ and move on.

But The Rethinkers were persistent. One of the students’ demands at the Aramark meeting was menuing more local produce. The group offered to survey eight schools to find out what local produce the students liked. When the students felt that demand was not being addressed, the students held Aramark’s feet to the fire, and negotiated a signed contract promising that fresh, local produce would be served at least twice a week in the district’s cafeterias.

This is but one example of why FoodService Director selected students as one of our 20 Most Influential.

When I attended school, it was all about getting through the day to my “real life.” Yes, I went to class and attended school functions like Friday night football games and prom, but the thought of a group of students using their precious little free time to work with school officials to work on making school lunch better is not something I think many kids would be willing to do.

I commend The Rethinkers and the group’s advisors for advocating for what they believe in and helping to make positive changes in their schools.

One of the most poignant moments in the episode was when two of The Rethinkers were speaking with a school principal about whether she ate school meals. The principal said she steered clear of the cafeteria at all costs. The principal added that she believed the students would have a much better chance of making changes to the school meal program than she ever did.

Power to the students.

More From FoodService Director

Industry News & Opinion
Shedd Aquarium White Sox Shedd The Straw

The Chicago White Sox have partnered with the Shedd Aquarium to support their “Shedd the Straw” initiative: a plan that the groups expect to curb the use of plastic straws by about 215,000 this baseball season.

Beginning on Earth Day, April 22, drinks at all dining locations throughout the Sox’s Guaranteed Rate Field will not be automatically served with plastic straws. Guests will be provided with biodegradable straws upon request. Guaranteed Rate Field is said to be the first in Major League Baseball to ban the use of plastic straws.

“At one of Shedd Aquarium’s local...

Industry News & Opinion

The Henry P. Kendall Foundation, a philanthropic group that aims to create a more sustainable food system in New England, has announced its creation of the New England Food Vision Prize .

The foundation is inviting foodservice leaders from colleges and universities throughout New England to submit their ideas on how to create a stronger food system that will help the region produce at least half of its own food by 2060.

Qualifying ideas must be collaborative and replicable, among other requirements. The foundation hopes that by reaching out to large food purchasers, like...

Industry News & Opinion
CP building

Central Point School District in Central Point, Ore., is sprucing up its lunch program by adding more locally produced foods and scratch-made dishes, KDRV reports.

A nutritionist and chef from the Oregon Dairy and Nutrition Council trained school staff on 15 new recipes with the goal of upgrading the school lunch menu.

The ongoing project has been successfully implemented in other Oregon school districts over the last eight years. The trainings focus on Oregon State University Extension Food Hero recipes that meet USDA nutrition standards and incorporate locally sourced...

Industry News & Opinion

Carson City School District in Carson City, Nev., hosted its Breakfast with a Hero event this week, Carson Now reports.

Held at an elementary school, the event invited local law enforcement to serve breakfast and eat with students. Officials say the event was intended to help students connect and engage with local officers in a casual setting.

Read the full story via carsonnow.org .

Photo by Dan Davis at Carson City School District

FSD Resources