Today, starts the first day of one of the largest, most viral student-led lunchtime boycotts. Farmington High School of Farmington, Connecticut organized the Facebook event to boycott the school lunches for November 3-7th. The peaceful consumer demonstration protests not only the incredibly dismal quality of the food, but also the harsh credit system that denies lunches when accounts are slightly overdrawn. Over 500 people have signed up to attend.
If there weren’t some photos to back up the complaints, the quality problem would sound outrageous enough for Charles Dickens to reject as fiction. Students have found mold, uncooked chicken, expired food, unidentifiable blobs, dead bugs and human hairs. They have described portion sizes for $3.50 lunches that amount to a couple of gulps. But to add insult to injury, students are not alerted when their accounts are running down. Instead, their lunch is taken and chucked into garbage cans right next to the register; right in front of their faces and peers. In one instance, a parent complained that her daughter who has Type 1 diabetes was forced to throw out her only meal – a yogurt. Another student had his lunch laid waste because he was short 50 cents.
It’s not so much the school they take issue with – although the school is condoning the poor quality – but the shady food company to whom they are contracted – Chartwells. Speaking as a former public school staff member, this example highlights a nationwide problem of schools subletting food quality to the lowest possible private bidder.
High school senior and organizer David Casella said:
They’re not treating us like humans, they’re treating us like a business opportunity.
The school has tried to pressure students to back down, citing possible injury to students on the free lunch program that might not be able to participate. Solution? The students are bringing extra lunches from home to help them and are ordering pizzas this week. In the past, they have reached into their pockets to help students who get their lunches thrown out when they are short. Unfortunately, today during the boycott, one student was barred from handing out free food. The Principal told her it was illegal! (See: Breaking Bread: Student Punished for Sharing Lunch)
Rachel White hopes the boycott will at least get attention and says, “…we hold the power. We are the customers and Chartwells is the business.” One student estimates that if just over 300 students participate for the week, then Chartwells could lose up to $6,000 dollars.
These are just a few examples of Chartwells’ “scrumptious” servings. You can scroll through the event above to find postings of portion sizes and dead bugs in fruit and veggies. (Hope you’ve already eaten.)
|MOLD on tomato dipping sauce – student found several others just like it served to other students|
|Completely RAW chicken|
|History dictates that this is mostly SOY|
|Survey attempted by the school system and student’s response|
This is not the first attempt at a boycott against Chartwells. Not the first time by a long shot. Another time, it was a protest launched by elementary students. Another affront is the knowledge that First Lady Michelle Obama had personally worked with Chartwells in a campaign to boost vegetables and fruits in lunch servings.
Instead of the negative publicity affecting healthy change, the Farmington school system seems to be using pressure tactics to end the boycott. Their public statements don’t allude to real change. In some instances students were called individually into the Principal’s office. On Friday, Sarah White was called down and given a patronizing “this isn’t like you” speech and was told in no uncertain terms to “knock it off” because they were going to “sort it out with Chartwells.” Sarah was tired of being pressured to have a “take-it-on-the-chin” attitude out of some unwarranted sense of respect and not making a scene in order to keep up appearances.
It sounds like the school system is considering changes to the credit system, but as far as major changes to the quality of the food, students are proceeding with the boycott. Until they see those actual changes, they just aren’t buying it.
Good book about changing the school lunch program and packing healthy lunches:
Lunch Lessons: Changing the Way We Feed Our Children