Hash brown stick with ketchup. That is one of the things you would have had for lunch this week if you were an elementary school student in the Alum Rock Unified School District.
I try to picture what it would look like. Would it be on a Popsicle stick? Would grease be running down the sides?
I don’t have children, but I am well aware that schools don't typically offer the healthiest of foods for their students.
A wonderful community group in San José called Somos Mayfair recently surveyed members in their community regarding the school lunch program. I volunteered to enter some of the data and then participated in their community meeting to discuss the results.
The entire event was in Spanish, and although the meeting was not as well attended as they had hoped for, the energy in the room was overwhelming. I sat at a table with a woman and her two children. Her son, about 5, was eating baby carrots, watermelon and popping fresh garbanzo beans out of the pods into his mouth. I asked if he ate like this all of the time, and his mother said he does when he is at home because he loves his veggies.
The cafeteria menu* for that district was shown to me for that school was anything but healthy. Here are some of the options for breakfast: breakfast pizza, cinnamon glazed pancake, pork sausage biscuit and Trix yogurt. Some of the healthier options included whole grain cereal and applesauce cup.
Lunch: chicken hot dog w/ketchup, French bread pizza, PBJ sandwich (not so bad!), mini cheeseburger w/ketchup, turkey soft taco w/taco sauce, beef-and-bean burritos, corn dogs and chicken nuggets and hash brown stick w/ketchup.
The menu does show that they have some sort of salad bar available, however, as someone who first went vegetarian when I was in elementary school, I don’t imagine I could eat salad every day in fact when I was in college many years ago, I became anemic because of salads being my only option.
We discussed different things that needed to be done and, well, my suggestion of having the Child Nutrition Services Board eat from the school lunch menu for at least two weeks got a positive reaction.
The findings in the surveys showed that even though the majority of the children qualified for the free-lunch program, many didn’t take advantage of it because the food being offered was so unhealthy.
And what about any of the kids who have a strong love and compassion for animals? What are their options? Again, they should be given choices – not to mention that these types of choices will lead them to eating healthier food as they get older.
But, I started to wonder if I compared the school lunch menus of the students who live in the Mayfair neighborhood in East San José to those who live in Palo Alto. The Mayfair neighborhood (where Cesar Chavez lived at one point) is made up of immigrants, mostly from Mexico. And, well, Palo Alto is a very affluent area.
I just couldn’t imagine students in Palo Alto eating these types of meals.
So, for this blog, I looked it up:
Palo Alto School District Menu
Sample of some of the Lunch options: Hearty Garden Salad with Sunflower Seeds or Cheese Ravioli with Wheat Roll, Bean & Cheese Burrito, Assorted Vegetables, Assortment of Fruit, or Minnie Mouse Salad with Wheat Roll, Hamburger on Whole Wheat Bun, or Bosco Sticks with Marinara Sauce.
Alum Rock Unified School District Menu:
Right. No surprises.
I am sure that people can explain economics and the reasons why, but personally I don’t care about any excuses regarding economics; I care about equality, and I care about justice.
So not only do people of color and low-income communities face a lack of healthy foods in their neighborhoods as compared to others, but they suffer this same injustice in the PUBLIC schools?
This is wrong and no words can make it any better.
But hopefully with more groups like Somos Mayfair asking tough questions of those in charge, changes can happen and kids, regardless of their background, can grow up healthy and happy.
*Thank goodness for California’s new law; with SB 1413, California schools are required to provide access to drinking water in the meal areas. Yes, without that, the students wouldn’t have access.