In last Friday’s food news, I told you about a new blog, Fed Up: School Lunch Project. For one year, a teacher, Mrs. Q, will eat the same lunch that is offered to her students in the cafeteria, take pictures, and comment about it on the blog. To her surprise, the blog has gotten quite a bit of buzz, but I’m not surprised.
The quality of our school lunches is discussed frequently, but few people outside of the schools get to see the questionable lunches this up close and personal. Mrs. Q is giving us the details and the visuals we lack.
Mrs. Q graciously agreed to answer some questions for me. Read on to find out what message Mrs. Q thinks that our school lunches gives to the kids.
Robin: When you were a kid, did you buy your lunch or did you brown bag it? How do you think the lunches served in your school cafeteria when you were a student differ from the lunches in the cafeteria now where you teach?
Mrs. Q: I remember having mostly brown-bagged lunches. My mom would sit us down with the monthly menu and we would cross off the meals we didn't want. I remember getting bagged lunch more than "hot lunch." That being said I don't remember very much about what I ate. I moved a lot all over the country as a child and I sometimes ate alone. My biggest concern at lunch was having friends. I do remember open campus when I was a senior in high school and eating a lot of fast food. My mother was very "granola" and so that was a whole new world for me.
Why did you start the Fed Up: School Lunch Project blog?
I just have seen what the kids eat at my school and it makes me sad. I know that I feel bad about myself when I eat food I know is bad for my body. The last thing that the kids from my school need is to feel even worse about their circumstances. The meals send a message to the kids that they are not cared about.
Your blog has gotten a lot of attention in a short period of time. I know that at first it surprised you, but now that you've had time to think about it, why do you think so many people are interested?
I am still surprised. I've reflected on the high level of interest, and I believe that school lunch is something very few really get to see firsthand. On the other hand, school lunches evoke memories buried deep in our consciousness. Memories of being little in a big school and eating with friends ... or not. So there is a certain nostalgia. I have really enjoyed reading the comments where people share personal stories about school lunches in their lives. The comments are something special.
Does your school post some sort of nutrition guidelines for their lunches either on a school website or on the menu each month or somewhere? Do the lunches seem to meet the guidelines?
Nutritional information and guidelines are not available on the school's website. I can see a pattern in the offerings (like a fruit or fruit cup everyday and "two" grains), but I don't have enough knowledge about guidelines to know if they are being met.
I did a piece a while ago about the menu at my own children's school. Take a look at the picture of the menu and tell me if it's similar to the type of menu you see at your school.
The menu from your school is similar to the one at mine. Believe it or not, your children’s school is better because the students are offered more choices and variety. For ‘example, for the main food item they can choose between two items (like a chicken patty or a cheeseburger). Also I noticed they offer "celery sticks," "chilled apricots," "cinnamon apples," and "sweet potatoes," which are not options at my school. My school district doesn't have a lot of money, which makes it difficult to come up with an answer to this problem.
All the foods in the photos on your blog seem to come individually wrapped. Are you concerned about the waste that the packaging creates?
The packaging is really amazing. The sheer amount of trash created is shocking. By going to a paper trays and plastic coverings, we are creating tons of unnecessary waste for sure. Going "backwards" to dishes, the district would save on transportation and packaging costs, but increase the need for dishwashers.
If you could suggest one thing, even if it's a very small thing, for your district to change first with the school lunches, what would it be?
I would love to see more food choices and more variety as well as more fresh food.
I can imagine why you want to remain anonymous, but for people who might be wondering why you don't reveal more about yourself, can you explain why?
I think that if I reveal myself I might lose my job, but I'm probably slightly paranoid. I know I haven't done anything explicitly that jeopardizes my work. You know, at the very least things will get uncomfortable for me at work, which I'd like to avoid. I would like to reveal myself at some point potentially, but I think being anonymous reinforces that I could be any teacher at any school. We are all "Mrs. Q."
Is there anything else you'd like us to know about your blog and what you are trying to do that I haven't covered yet?
I'd just like to make sure that my readers know that I don't have all the answers to the school lunch issue. I know that money is a big problem for states and the federal government. I don't know what the answer is, but I want to raise awareness and create a dialogue. I believe we can do better.
Images used with permission from Mrs. Q