North Side students boycotting school lunch this week took in donations of yogurt and granola on Monday. By Friday, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals was offering the Roosevelt High School students free vegan lunches.
“We were so inspired by the teens raising their voices for healthier food that we decided to offer a lunch that’s healthy, delicious and cruelty free, and one we’re sure that the students will love,” says Nina Kahn, PETA’s assistant manager of youth campaigns.
Two of CPS’s top entrees are cheeseburgers and chicken patties.
PETA sent the letter to Roosevelt principal Pilar Vazquez-Vialva, but said the principal hadn’t yet responded. Friday afternoon CPS spokeswoman Emily Bittner wrote that “CPS is committed to serving healthy and nutritious meals to its students, including meat-free options.”
But in the same message she noted that accepting the vegan food would “jeopardize our federal nutrition funding.”
Roosevelt senior Valerie Mendez said the students were generally excited about the offer.
“Some of them have never tried vegan food, and didn’t know what it would be like. But then they were like, ‘Let’s try it.’” she says. “A lot of us think [the offer’s] great and a game changer. It could be beneficial in multiple ways — not only healthy for us but it really puts our movement into action.”
The movement started last month when teacher Tim Meegan’s civics students created a website and petition aimed at improving CPS food provided by Aramark. Last week they launched a partial lunch boycott at Roosevelt that went nearly schoolwide on Monday.
Tuesday, 30 officials from Aramark and CPS met with the students.
CPS’s Bittner called the meeting productive. “Working together, we developed an action plan that includes forming a School Dining Committee, where students can continue to participate firsthand in the meal planning process.”
But Roosevelt teacher Meegan called the meeting “disappointing.” He says CPS school food chief Leslie Fowler “talked over us and dictated all the terms of the meeting and action steps. The students felt very put off. Not only did she cut off students but she talked over me and even Aramark representatives there.”
So the students have decided to take their protest further. This Thursday (December 17) they’re calling for a district-wide boycott of the meals. If it’s as successful as the one held at Roosevelt on Monday, the boycott could end up costing the district and Aramark (who split a $3.15 federal payment for each meal taken) hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Principal Vazquez-Vialva and Aramark did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
CPS officials told Meegan this week that he is not allowed to distribute or store the 10,000 bags of granola that were donated to Roosevelt students. Officials told him it is considered food that competes with Aramark’s products. He says he has arranged to have thousands of bags picked up by the Greater Chicago Food Depository.
Kahn, of PETA, said she knows CPS may object to offering the free vegan lunch at the school, but that she wants to work with the district to find some way of delivering it to students. In her letter she writes:
“By putting together a healthy and sustainable vegan menu to nourish your students, you can not only fulfill their request for healthier cafeteria fare, but also take a stand against the cruelty inherent in the meat, dairy and egg industries and help fight climate change — which will set a positive, compassionate example not only for your students but for other schools, too. We hope to hear from you soon!”
Kahn says last year PETA donated vegan “fishless filets” to a New York middle school that was about to eat the tilapia they’d raised. “They made fish tacos with them, “ she says, “and we were able to save the fishes’ lives.”
Roosevelt senior Mendez said many of her fellow students looked forward to trying the vegan meals.
“We’d want to try some kind of veggie burger,” she said, “but especially some really good fruit and vegetables because that’s not what we get around here.”