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

Ideas and Innovation
coffee shop trailor graphic

A familiar face is coming to the roads of Rutgers University this fall: the Starbucks mermaid. The New Brunswick, N.J.-based school is testing a Starbucks truck throughout the upcoming semester, NJ.com reports . The company began testing trucks on college campuses in 2014, and now has mobile locations at Arizona State University, James Madison University in Virginia, East Carolina University in North Carolina and Sacramento State in California.

The trucks will serve the full lineup of Starbucks beverages that’s available at the outlet’s brick-and-mortar location at Rutgers,...

Industry News & Opinion

A study from Virginia Tech has found a connection between school meal participation and obesity in students. From data that predates the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act , the findings raise questions over whether nutrition standards go far enough.

The research evaluated data from 1998 to 2007, comparing first through eighth grade students who partook in free and reduced-price lunch and those who qualified but opted out. Wen You, associate professor in the Department of Agriculture and Applied Economics at Virginia Tech, says she expected to validate theories that increased breakfast...

Industry News & Opinion

Buffalo Public Schools is turning to local chefs and a little competition to help create new menu items, the Buffalo News reports .

In October, local chefs will compete against each other and a team of seven to 10 students led by chef Bobby Anderson, a former contestant on “Hell’s Kitchen,” to create lunch recipes that comply with USDA nutritional requirements and use seasonal produce sourced locally.

“This Chef Challenge is another way to engage our youth in a fun, friendly competition with local area chefs who can help create appealing recipes that will be incorporated...

Industry News & Opinion

After being sued by the Services Employees International Union over its decision to change vendors from Sodexo to Morrison, the foodservice arm at Mayo Clinic continues to face backlash from staff.

Foodservice employees at the Rochester, Minn., hospital last week handed over a petition 1,200 signatures deep asking that they remain with their current employer, Fox 9 reports .

While a Mayo Clinic spokesperson said that staff will be given similar positions and pay rates under Morrison, SEIU Healthcare Minnesota—the union representing much of the hospital’s foodservice staff—...

FSD Resources