Photo by Wild Don Lewis

Francesca de la Rosa knows how to organize people — from founding Women Advocates for Knowledge and Empowerment in 1996, which rallied around issues such as Proposition 187, while a student at Mount St. Mary’s College, to volunteering on various political campaigns to working as Coalition L.A.’s lead organizer for the 10th Council District. But when her current employer, the Center for Food and Justice, asked her to take on the junk-food epidemic at LAUSD, she was skeptical. “I didn’t think food would be an exciting issue for people,” says de la Rosa, who discovered that the meal choices — from vending machines or the cafeteria staples of fried chicken, pizza and nachos — hadn’t changed much since she went to Belmont High School in the ’90s. “I was totally wrong in every respect.”

Two years ago, with a group of teachers and parents, she started the Healthy School Food Coalition, which offers workshops on nutrition as well as teaching parents how to get action out of public officials. The coalition advocated the Obesity Prevention Motion — passed by the school board last year — which outlined 24 recommendations, including providing breakfast to students and implementing a salad-bar program within six years on all school campuses as well as an immediate ban on junk food. A year earlier, the coalition was instrumental in banning soft drinks at LAUSD.

“We wanted food services to come up with alternatives. In the past, your meal of the day was a hamburger served cold.
It’s pretty gross,” says de la Rosa, whose first foray into activism came when her mother and other LAUSD teachers went on strike to protest low wages. “That whole experience politicized me and woke me up to different issues around workers’ rights and labor rights and the impact people can have on the ground level.” The coalition’s next goal is to get all fast-food chains
off campuses.

“A lot of kids at LAUSD come from low-income communities which are littered with fast-food restaurants,” says de la Rosa. “They come in here hungry and depend on the student meal program. School is the only place where they can get healthy food.”

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