Students advocate for better food

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

Students from Youth United for Change continue their efforts to improve the quality of food served in school.

They took their case to the School Reform Commission meeting on Thursday night to publicly ask that students have a role in choosing a new provider for food that is prepared elsewhere and that the District set standards to require that at least 75 percent is fresh rather than frozen. YUC also wants rules for the request-for-proposal that will allow more companies to apply.

"The students need to be heard about school food because we are the ones who are eating the food," said Nadia Watson, a sophomore at Kensington Business High School who spoke for the group. Good meals are important to achievement, she said.

"In my experience, a student who eats lunch at school tends to pay attention more than a student who doesn’t eat lunch," she said. "The problem with students not wanting to eat the school lunches is that they are unappealing or look like something that you can’t even explain."

SRC member Sylvia Simms asked Watson how much food she sees wasted each day.

"Almost all of it," she replied.

YUC has been working with District officials already and made many recommendations to improve the quality of "pre-plated" food.

"A majority of students in the District get pre-plated food," Watson said. Those meals should not be fried and should include salads, she said.

YUC also wants the District to enforce the requirement with the current provider, Maramont, to get its food tested for bacteria in an independent laboratory and to make sure that the maximum possible amount of the federal subsidies for low-cost or free lunch is spent "on quality food for us, rather than on other expenses."

"We want the School District to make quality, fresh, healthy food for us a priority," Watson said.

Wayne Grasela, senior vice president for food services, said that the students will continue to be involved as the District moves forward in choosing a provider, especially in tasting, although it is not clear whether they could actually participate in choosing a new provider.

But he added that the students have devoted admirable time and effort to their cause.

"It’s been a pleasure working with these students," he said.