According to a local Texas news station, about 30 students at Austwell-Tivoli Junior High School in Texas near the Gulf Coast staged a four-day boycott of cafeteria food to protest a lack of menu choices and healthier alternatives.
The students demanded less menu repetition and more choice in what is served, including salads. President of the seventh-grade class Mckenzi Simmons said “boycott” was a vocabulary word in a recent Texas history class, and that students put what they’d learned into action.
“All we wanted was for our voice to be heard and a chance at change,” said Mckenzi, 12.
Antonio Aguirre, Austwell-Tivoli Junior High School’s Superintendent, praised the students for exerting the “power of their own learning” but defended the school’s menus, saying they are based on policy set by the Texas Department of Agriculture — which provide specific nutritional guidelines for foods like fruits and vegetables, portion sizes and fried foods.
“Kids will say, `When am I ever going to use this stuff?”‘ Aguirre said about some classrooms. “Maybe those girls are our leaders of tomorrow. Somebody has to jump up and do something different.”
Mckenzi and the class vice president sent a letter to their principal, Stephen Maldonado, on behalf of their class, calling for less repetition in lunches and a choice of a salad.
“We have tried other solutions before,” the letter read. “However, seeing as there has been no change or consideration, we have come to this option. Once again, if we have hurt anyone’s feelings we are sincerely sorry, as it was unintentional.”
The National School Lunch Program was originally designed to stabilize food prices with government purchases of food surpluses. The surplus food was then used to provide low cost school lunches to students via school subsidies.
In December 2009, a scathing indictment of the entire program surfaced when an investigative report revealed thousands of schools served contaminated peanut butter and canned vegetables to schoolchildren weeks after those foods had been recalled.
During the same month, kids on the school lunch program were served thousands of tons of “spent hen” meat from old egg-laying hens; the meat was normally used by pet food producers and supplied to schools by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Approximately 25 percent of the National School Lunch Program has been privatized, much of it outsourced to food service management giants who work closely with food manufacturers like Tyson and Pilgrim’s to exploit the system.
The USDA pays about $1 billion a year for bulk commodities like fresh apples and sweet potatoes, chickens and turkeys.
But instead of schools using the food to cook meals from scratch, more and more pay processors to turn the otherwise healthy ingredients into fried chicken nuggets and pizza.
Some $445 million worth of commodities are sent for processing each year, a nearly 50 percent increase since 2006.