On July 13th, we let you know about the L.A. Unified School District (LAUSD) meeting regarding their contracts with school lunch vendors. A handful of grassroots activists attended with the intent to halt the planned 5-year renewal and postpone the vote until the community could discuss alternatives. They were successful, at least somewhat. The agreements with each food vendor were renewed for just three years, with the Tyson contract still in limbo, and Superintendent Ramon C. Contines announced his intent to create a task force that would come up with viable alternatives to the current system.
However those activists aren't waiting for Cortines to make good on his promise. They've formed their own organization, Food For Lunch, and have already created an initial list of changes they'd like to see immediately implemented in the lunchroom. Per the group's release, they are as follows:
• More whole foods, fruits and vegetables served. We advocate for California-
sourced, unprocessed foods served daily at lunch and breakfast. This means no
nuggets or other such highly processed animal protein foods.
• Less sugar: Reduce sugar to no more than 20 grams per meal and remove
foods made with high fructose corn syrup as well as milk with added sugar and
• Water: We want filtered, non-bottled water as a beverage option school-wide.
• Sustainability: We want food that is sustainably sourced and minimally
packaged and a reduction of individually wrapped and packaged foods.
In addition, we also demand transparency in food and contract selection and a
willingness from the School Board and Food Services to go through the pain of
transition as healthier changes are implemented in school breakfasts and lunches.
And why the stall with Tyson? One of the main reasons was that School Board member Steve Zimmer Googled the company, which is under federal investigation for questionable practices, in the middle of the meeting and became disconcerted, suggesting then and there that LAUSD should seriously reconsider the collaboration. David Binkle, Deputy Branch Director, Menu/Compliance for LAUSD, could not be reached for comment on the status of the Tyson contract, however, Ellen Morgan of the Office of Communications and Media Relations assured us via voicemail that current school lunches in L.A. “exceed USDA qualifications for a good meal.”
But Megan Hanson, current activist as well as co-founder and Executive Director of RootDownLA, an organization which aims to get children and teens back in touch with real food, calls this out as a fallacy. “Under USDA standards, [LAUSD] has made some changes that seem healthy, but when you really start to look at the food items individually, they're not that healthy. No one is cooking at LAUSD. Everything now is being processed and prepackaged. Even the produce.” Hanson continues, “They're playing the game to sort of hit the standards, meanwhile not addressing that there's no nutrient density.”
Another LAUSD school board meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, August 31st at 1:00 p.m., and Food for Lunch plans to attend and speak. These meetings are open to the public.