Guest blogger: Student concerned about ingredients

*** Please welcome a student concerned about the ingredients in the lunches she eats. I’d like to make it clear that she is not my student, we have never met, and she contacted me wanting to share her experience ***

Hello! My name is Tara and I’m a senior at my high school in Illinois. I have been through a lot this year in the realm of school lunch improvement.

In November of 2009 I decided to take on our school lunch. I sent my first email to our school food provider (Aramark) in search of ingredient lists for our food. I thought it would be a very easy process to get this information, as I figured they were legally obligated to provide it to me.

To my surprise, after weeks I received no response. So, I contacted my district’s associate superintendent to let him know that Aramark wasn’t responding to my email requests. About a day later I got a response email from Aramark:

“Oh hey Tara! Your message had gotten sent to my spam folder.” Blah blah blah.

Little did I know, I was in contact with a very new member of our district’s Aramark team. Weeks later I received an unofficial word document (obviously typed up by someone… full of grammatical errors) which contained ingredient lists for a few of our main dishes.

I was not surprised by what I found: our food was on the boarder of plastic.

On January 11th 2010, I gave a speech at our school board meeting.
At the time, it was an enormous success.

Our district’s associate superintendent was in contact with me the next day to arrange meetings with Aramark and I to “fix the food”.

At this point I had two main objectives:
1. Have the chemical fillers removed from our food
2. See that an official ingredient and regularly updated ingredient list was made accessible to the student body

And long story made short….

After several meetings with Aramark and district officials I realized neither of my wishes were going to be met.
I was not surprised by the fact that our school couldn’t “find the money” to get the fillers out of the food.

What DID surprise me, however, was the fact that the ingredients in our school food were being kept a secret from the students.
I was actually told by our district’s Aramark coordinator of food services that I should have never been given any ingredients in the first place, and that the woman who had them sent to me unknowingly risked her job by doing so.

In the past month my district’s associate superintendent has dropped out of my efforts.
(I have a feeling he is too busy worrying about the six million dollars the state owes my school district.)

So, I have taken ingredient transparency for my district into my own hands.

I have stated a petition for transparency, (please sign it!)

a facebook group,

and a blog of my own.

The only place I feel that this movement is lacking in is more student support. With that said, I’d like to offer my assistance to anyone who is interested in being a part of this all. There are a thousand different ways one can get involved. (You can start by signing my petition!!)

Also, thank you Mrs. Q for all of your efforts.
You’re putting your body and sanity on the line by doing what you’re doing.

-Healthy Tara

NOTE: all guest bloggers have contacted me of their own free will, have given consent, do not know me personally, and are not receiving compensation.  

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55 thoughts on “Guest blogger: Student concerned about ingredients

  1. Tara, Good for you! The squeaky wheel gets the oil.

    Do not give up. Make a fuss to the Board of Education, to your local politicians, to your (parents) Congressional Representative and to the 2 senators. Write a letter to Mrs. Obama. Write to the president. Write to the local news stations. Write to the local newspapers. Write to the national newspapers. Stay involved. Too many people are apathetic about too many things.

  2. Saw your picture on "healthytara". You don't look very healthy! Must be the school lunch!

  3. Tara, it is the interest and action of people like yourself that will lead to change. It may not be easy, but know that you are already making a difference. I respect what you are working for and completely support your efforts, even if you are losing support from others in your district. Don't give up!

  4. Ugh, I used to go to D300 schools–D-CHS, CMS, Perry… After about 7th grade or so, I usually brought my food from home because the stuff from the cafeteria was so questionable. Then I transferred to D220, where the food (provided by a different company, Sodexo) wasn't much better…despite the stereotypes about the supposed wealth of D220 kids' families. I think almost no matter where you go, the districts will just complain that they don't have enough money for decent food, blah blah blah. My college at home uses Sodexo, and the students there are always complaining about food quality there (but to be honest, I never understood why, since it was 100 times better than anything I got at D300 or D220). A group of kids tried to protest the college cafeterias by threatening to taint the food in order to force a boycott…not exactly the best idea, and it didn't really do anything except that the police were stationed in our cafeteria for a week. But shame on Aramark for not providing ingredient information. I would have thought they would be required to supply that information. Apparently not. But kudos to you, Tara! Keep up the good work!

  5. Chances are the reason that they couldn't provide you with that information is because it has to be obtained from the food distributor who they purchase food from, the distributor has to obtain that information from the supplier in which they purchased it from. I work for a major food distributor and know this first hand. So you may want to ask who the food distributor is and go from there, but make sure you have a list of product numbers and product descriptions which the food establishment(Aramark, Sodexho, etc.) should be able to provide you with.

    My recommendation…pack your child's lunch daily if at all possible. My child prefers that I make his lunch and I really wouldn't want to have it any other way. For a short while I allowed him to eat school breakfast but the constant pop tarts, Trix yogurt, honey buns and juice or milk really bothered me…nothing but processed sugar. Certainly not a breakfast of champions. How could anyone say that those are healthy options? I don't even feed my child Trix cereal much less Trix yogurt. Craziness! He now eats breakfast before going to school, usually oatmeal or fruit.

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