Sammy Nickalls
December 02, 2015 10:35 am

We all have eaten a not-so-delicious meal at the school cafeteria, but for teens at Roosevelt High School in Chicago, it goes much, much beyond a pile of mushy peas.

Two years ago, through federal subsidization, the district made lunches free in nearly every lunchroom in Chicago Public Schools (CPS). The intentions were great — to help low-income students, make lunch lines go faster, and make sure everyone was fed. Sounds great, right?

Not exactly. Though you’d expect more students than ever to take advantage of the school cafeteria — the food is free, after all! — the number of meals eaten dropped by a million in the first year, and 800,000 in the second year. The reason? Because the food is repulsive. We’re talking rotten pears, burnt pizza, brown lettuce, and fatty chicken patties. Not only is the food highly-processed and incredibly unhealthy, but it’s wholly unappetizing, leading many students to buy chips or other snacks to eat instead. That’s exactly why the students are taking action.

Shirley Hernandez, a junior at Roosevelt High, hopes to make a change once and for all. She’s one of the honors civics students who recently launched a petition, as well as the School Lunch Project, in an effort to make the district reform the school lunchrooms. “We want bigger portions, more nutritious food and [food] partly handmade from scratch,” Hernandez told WBEZ. “It’s a human right to have decent food, not the lowest quality of food.”

If the school can’t meet their demands, the students want permission to eat off campus or go home to eat. After all, odds are that for five meals a week, the students would be eating cheeseburgers, pizza, or chicken patties — the three most frequently served foods at Roosevelt High. “The fact that we eat fast food every day is going to affect us in the long term,” civics student Duyen Ho told WBEZ. “It’s going to affect us a lot.”

Students have been taking pictures of their meals and sharing them to social media to highlight the low quality of the school’s lunches.

“The health and wellness of our students is among our top priorities, and we will look into the students’ questions about their meals,” the CPS central office told WBEZ in a statement.

Students have been boycotting the lunches and are planning to take their protest to neighboring schools as well. Even one day of students boycotting lunches would cost CPS and its caterer, Aramark, thousands of dollars — after all, they get $3.15 in federal money for every free lunch a student takes.

“Today, our lunch at Roosevelt is no better than the ones in Cook County prison. In fact Aramark is the food service provider for both institutions,” the students write on their website for the cause. “Prisons only care about one thing when it comes down to meals—that it has enough nutrients for what the human body needs, it doesn’t matter if it tastes or smells bad. One online review of the prison food shows that prisoners get better food from Aramark than we do.”

The petition currently has over 500 signatures, and that number is growing by the day. “I think it’s especially important for young people in Chicago — where we see so much corruption, cronyism and nepotism — that they learn how to make change within large organizations,” honors civics teacher Tim Meegan told WBEZ. “This is just one of many diverse tactics that we are trying to teach young people so they are fully equipped to participate as citizens in a democratic society.”

(Images via Twitter.)

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