Friday, May 21, 2010


A while back, someone suggested that I check out a film called "Ingreedients". I was immediately attracted by the name- for obvious reasons- and decided to check it out. I sent the creator an email letting him know that I appreciated his efforts as obviously our goals are very similar. And then he sent me some copies of the film... what a nice guy!

So, I watched it and was totally blown away. I thought I understood the ups and downs of trans fats. But as it turns out- I didn't. In the film they even have some foods analyzed for trans fats content. Did anyone else realize that Smart Balance contains trans fat? What a bummer! Partially-hydrogenated oils definitely aren't the only thing to be looking out for when screening your groceries.

With that said, I definitely recommend that anyone who is interested in protecting themself and others from cracks in FDA and USDA regulations order a copy of the film from the Ingreedients website.

Students- get this into your classroom! Food Inc. is another beautifully informative piece of work as well. After my teacher showed Ingreedients in our American cultural studies class, I had people begging to borrow my copy to bring home to show their family.

And for those who are interested- I will post an update on my Aramark situation very soon.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Elfraydoh sauze

What are the rules in regards to naming foods? I mean, who is to say what "counts" as a potato chip? Does the packaging information just not have to be too misleading for the customer? And if that is the case, who regulates that?

As I was walking through the grocery store yesterday, I glanced at a product labeled "Cheezy Puffs". I thought to myself, "Wow, these people aren't trying to mislead anyone." They were obviously targeting a consumer base that didn't care whether or not what they were eating was real food. It's a "puff", and it tastes... well.... "cheezy".

With that in mind, I am posting ingredients for a cafeteria food item today that I would like to name "Elfraydoh Sauze". I thought it would be convenient because upon labeling, nobody would be mislead. Actually, they may even be intrigued enough to read the ingredients to attempt to decipher exactly what Elfraydoh Sauze is (if the ingredients are made available, of course).

Alfredo Sauce
Alfredo Sauce Ingredients: modified food starch, maltodextrin, cream replacer, whey, palm oil, partially hydrogenated soybean oil, parmesan and cheddar and romano cheese, cheese blend, nonfat milk, yeast extract, salt, sodium caseinate, less than 2% of cellulose gel, corn syrup solids, dehydrated butter, natural flavors, soybean oil, sunflower oil, annato, turmeric, black pepper, xanthan gum, sodium citrate, disodium phosphate, lactic acid, disodium inosinate, disodium guanylate, spice

 The first two ingredients are the same as the gravy, only switched. This actually makes me think that this particular paste is probably the base for all of their sauzes. Then we come to..... wait- cream replacer? Can someone help me out with that one? Has anyone ever seen that appear on a normal label? Well... hmm. At least we know what whey is. Palm oil is easily identifiable. Trans fats were only to be expected. A cheese blend followed by a... cheese blend. Yeast, salt, probable MSG in disguise.

Oh, and for anyone looking out for MSG (it wears a variety of costumes), this website has a nice list.

Now, back to the ingredients. Cellulose gel. I really like this explanation of cellulose gel for two reasons:
1. It was the first credible looking site I saw when I googled cellulose gel.
2. Nowhere in the product explanation is food even mentioned. This is an easily sited red flag when identifying products to avoid. If you don't know what it is, don't eat it.

Corn syrup solids is often compared to high-fructose corn syrup. It just sounds gross to me. Then we've got some butter and spices and things (natural flavors could also be MSG). Then we have two different oils next to each other, which makes me think they chose to do that in order to make the product appear to contain less oil.

Overall, Elfraydoh Sauze gets a thumbs down from me. If they hadn't gotten me with the first two ingredients, it would have been the cream replacer.

Oh, and if anyone is interested in making some real Alfredo sauce, this recipe only contains six ingredients and looks delicious!

Friday, April 30, 2010

Response email to Aramark regarding ingredient transparency policy

The following email is the response I sent to Aramark after having received the email featured in my blog's latest entry.
Mr. [Aramark employee],

It does not specify on the ARAMARK website that the policy only pertains to individuals with food allergies. Also, in no way does the site even suggest that these allergies must be documented.

I am aware that ARAMARK is not legally obligated to provide me with the ingredient information for the food served at my school. However, I believe that it is an ethical obligation, as your site clearly states that the information can be requested upon by customers, and does not specify any qualities which these customers must possess.

I am also quite aware that the D300 website offers a nutritional calculator. However, I do not believe that this allows me to monitor the nutritional content of my meals at school. For example, did you know that a termite contains approximately 14 grams of protein? Interestingly enough, a half cup of cooked soybeans also contains about 14 grams of protein.

However, I would never confuse the two. Unless of course they were found in foods in which the ingredient information was kept from me, and I only had the nutritional data available to make a decision as to whether or not to consume them.

In no way, sir, am I suggesting that ARAMARK would ever contaminate its food with termites to replace soybeans (even if it may save a few pennies here and there). However, the idea remains valid. In order to make responsible and intelligent decisions about what I put into my body, I must be able to decipher between termites and soybeans, sugar and high-fructose corn syrup, natural oils and those that have been partially-hydrogenated, etc. etc.

Now as far as me being a customer to ARAMARK, I recently purchased something in the cafeteria in order to make matters very simple for us.

I hope that clears up everything and I look forward to reviewing the cafeteria food ingredient information for my school very soon.

Until then,


Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Email from Aramark

More than a month ago I sent Aramark an email reminding them that their website claims ingredient transparency.

Upon request, we share with customers all ingredients that go into our final product.

I suggested that they may have possibly been confused, as I had obviously been attempting to get cafeteria food ingredients for a long time.

Last night they emailed me back. Here is what they have to say.

-- We appreciate your patience as we reviewed this issue further.  
The information you cited and extracted from our corporate website relates to customers with documented food allergies. 
Nutritional information for the food served in D300’s Food Service Program is readily available on the D300 food service website using the Nutritional Calculator.  This allows students and parents to monitor the nutritional content of D300’s school meals, which exceed State and USDA nutritional requirements. 
The D300 proprietary menu database includes hundreds of recipes containing thousands of ingredients.  Currently, there is not a means for specific ingredient lists to be accessed electronically.  Ingredient lists for specific items prepared in the D300 Food Service Program can be compiled manually to assist parents of student customers with documented food allergies. 
We have not received, from you or your parents, any information relating to a food allergy and you do not appear to be a customer of the D300 Food Service Program.  If you do, in fact, have a documented food allergy, then our School Food Service Director will be happy to speak with you and/or your parents to assist you in selecting menu items that meet your dietary needs. 
There are so few things in this world really deserving of the term bullshit. This is one of those things.

The information you cited and extracted from our corporate website relates to customers with documented food allergies. 
Really? Because it doesn't say that. And usually when things aren't said, we can assume that they don't apply. I usually feel safe eating veggie burgers in restaurants because I make the reasonable assumption that a restaurant would not be stupid enough to put meat on it.

With that said, I know now not eat a veggie burger produced by Aramark.

And another thing: what exactly defines an allergy? Does meat have to make me sick in order to have the right to opt out of it? And if getting sick from it IS the definition of an "allergy", then how fast does it have to happen? I mean, studies have shown that partially-hydrogenated oils have far more detrimental effects to your health than natural oils. Does that mean that everyone is allergic?

Nutritional information for the food served in D300’s Food Service Program is readily available on the D300 food service website using the Nutritional Calculator.  
Which weighs more: a pound of feathers or a pound of iron?

This allows students and parents to monitor the nutritional content of D300’s school meals,
 No actually it doesn't, as I have just clearly proved with my very clever feathers to iron analogy.

which exceed State and USDA nutritional requirements.
The USDA also says that onion rings and french fries count as vegetables.

The D300 proprietary menu database includes hundreds of recipes containing thousands of ingredients.  Currently, there is not a means for specific ingredient lists to be accessed electronically.  Ingredient lists for specific items prepared in the D300 Food Service Program can be compiled manually to assist parents of student customers with documented food allergies. 
 Alright... so you don't know, and you don't want to go through the effort of finding out? Unless I'm sick?  There's that western  mentality again- I have to be sick before I should start taking care of myself.

We have not received, from you or your parents, any information relating to a food allergy and you do not appear to be a customer of the D300 Food Service Program.  If you do, in fact, have a documented food allergy, then our School Food Service Director will be happy to speak with you and/or your parents to assist you in selecting menu items that meet your dietary needs.  

I became a customer when I started paying federal, state and local taxes. I was even a customer when I stopped making cafeteria food purchases due to Aramark's refusal to present me with information that I believe is vital to my health and the health of my peers.

And today, to make things really simple for you, I was a customer when I purchased something and gave it away.

I supported you.

Now it's time for you to support me, and anyone else who wishes to take intelligent care of their body.

It's time for you to assist the parents who want to see their children to grow up strong and healthy.

It's time for you to help to end childhood obesity in America.

It's time for you to live to your word.

Monday, April 26, 2010

What's in that?

At the beginning of my journey for school food ingredients, I was in contact with a new member of my district's Aramark representatives. Luckily for me at the time, this particular representative was unaware of her ability to deny me ingredient information. After a few weeks of gathering facts I was sent a word document which contained a few ingredients for many of the main entrees served at my school. I was unsatisfied as the document was not only obviously unofficial, filled with errors in spelling and unspecific cafeteria food terms, but also lacked the information for numerous menu choices. However, I was pleased with some of the information I received, and later used it as evidence in a speech I gave at my school board meeting on removing additives from our cafeteria food.

Anyway, I thought it might be fun and informative to pull out some of these facts and see for ourselves exactly why ingredient transparency is so necessary.

I will henceforth be reviewing items on the daily.

These facts are dedicated to the loving parents out there who have dumpster-dived their kids' schools.

Also, anyone who is interested in seeing these word documents for whatever purpose can feel free to request them via email. I would be happy to share them with you!

Today I thought it would be fitting to begin with the item I used as evidence for my school board meeting speech, which I spent a good minute and a half reading aloud for all to hear. After I was finished a board member remarked, "I hope that's not a salad!"

Gravy Ingredients: maltodexrin, modified cornstarch, bleached enriched wheat flour, hydrolyzed corn gluten, soy, wheat gluten protein, cornstarch, partially hydrogenated soybean and cottonseed, whey, onion powder, yeast extract, less than 2% sugar, soybean oil, caramel color, xanthan gum, soy sauce, garlic powder, dextrose, disodium inosinate, disodium guanylate, spice, sunflower oil, citric acid, thamine  
 So maltodextrin comes first which is a sort of over-processed starch. Then we've got another modified starch, followed by a flour which has been bleached (to suck out the nutrients) and then enriched (to chemically "put some of them back").Then we enter some probable MSG in disguise, followed by some soy and wheat proteins for texture. Oh, and we mustn't forget the trans fat for shelf life.

Here's a tip I often give to people who want to start taking care of their bodies:

"If you don't know what it is, DON'T EAT IT."

Unfortunately in today's day and age, many of us don't have that luxury.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Fun facts

I have been very busy lately. Last week I took a trip all the way down to the capitol to attend a rally to pass taxes for education. Currently the state owes my district more than 11 million dollars due to the economic downturn (their poor budgeting).

Illinois ranks as the 5th richest state according to personal income.
They also rank 47th for educational funding.

Yeah, I know. It doesn't make any sense. But hey- Neither does a lack of ingredient transparency!

Speaking of that, with an application to the budget crisis: Many have suggested that I lobby my district to switch to a food provider that will treat students like myself with a little more respect.

Well, here is my "answer" to that-
Aramark has continually offered my district the best deal for outsourced cafeteria food management. And though their contract is up for consideration this summer, it would do more harm than good to switch to a different company. We've already lost too much to the deficit. 148 teachers and counting so far, as well as numerous cuts to our extracurricular programs and a five students per class size increase.

I'm really between a rock and a hard place in that matter. And so is my district.

So I realize that not everyone lives in District 300, or Illinois in that matter. But this is definitely an issue that many will face upon seeking ingredient transparency.

On a lighter note: This school offers full ingredient transparency.

It's all done on a volunteer basis through their wonderful nutrition committee.

 (thanks JGold!)

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Ingredient Transparency Email Update

About a month ago I was directed to the Aramark website- on which it claims ingredient transparency already...

Upon request, we share with customers all ingredients that go into our final product.
-[love,] ARAMARK

So, I sent them an email that day suggesting that they may have been confused about their own policies.

A week and a day later I got a "thank you for your inquiry" response. (the exact email can be found here)

On April 15th, after waiting patiently two weeks for a response, I sent them this:

[representative's name],

It's been a couple weeks since I've heard from you in regards to the ingredient transparency claim made on the Aramark website. Are there any updates on that situation? Would it help if I contacted someone else?

Thanks a lot!


Since then, I've gotten this back:

That's right... a big white space. 
Well less than that, actually. I don't think most email sites will let you send blank messages. And even if they could, that might just take far too much effort. I'm sure they wouldn't want to lead me on.

So what do I have to do to be taken seriously? 
Is it too much to ask for a simple SELF CREATED POLICY to be followed?

I just want to know what's in the school cafeteria food.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

An unexciting, but still note-worthy update

It's been a while since I've posted, and for anyone who is curious- I am still alive.

Today was an exciting day for me. Last year at school I spent a good bit of time trying to get our overgrown courtyard transformed into a garden. Finally today, with the help of many others, I saw that idea come true! We are going to be planting flowers and trees and bushes to make the area a nice place to enjoy the outdoors, as well as will be planting vegetables to be grown organically. Very exciting. I offer my assistance to any students out there who would like to see any similar projects happen at their own schools. On that note, I will end this blog with a few pictures from today.

Now as far as ingredient transparency goes, I've been reaching out to newspapers lately in hopes that someone will find the withholding of school food ingredients to be as ridiculous as I do. So far my blog has been mentioned in the Chicago Tribune, but ingredient transparency has not gotten the illumination yet that I've been hoping for. Hopefully soon! I'm just going to keep on telling whoever I can about what's going on. Feel free to email me with any suggestions on how to get ingredient transparency some public attention. <3

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

On the road again!

Figuratively speaking. But in the best way possible.

I got another email today. Not from my district healthy school's project coordinator... but from the Illinois project coordinator! She said she was sorry that my district felt it was a conflict of interest for me to continue, but that she believes ingredient transparency absolutely fell within the guidelines of the project. She even said she would be able to provide me with some other resources that could help me.

I really appreciated that. I have been really bummed out about having to drop the healthy schools grant project.

Speaking of dropping the project, I had to email the bad news to the yogalates teacher today that was scheduled to be coming to our school. Faith from Exercise in Disguise was going to be giving us a generous fifty percent discount on six classes that would be offered free to any interested students.

I really believe it's individuals with skills and resources like that that can have some of the largest impact on the health of our society. You give a free yoga class to one kid who begins feeling in tune with their body... and you may have laid the ground work for a lifetime of wellness. Now that's what this whole movement is really about!

Now to the "on the road again" part;

I feel like it's now or never, so I sent my first email to a newspaper in regards to ingredient transparency today. Tomorrow I'll send another... or a few. With that said, please send me your press contacts to I would graciously accept any advice as far as these things go as well.

Oh, and last but not least,
A mom from Texas posted a very encouraging blog the other day about my blog and action towards ingredient transparency. Since then, she's been posting more and more about these issues and voicing her opinion on Aramark and cafeteria food. She's fun, informative and definitely worth following:


Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Short of an ending

So I thought today would be the day I could say, "ONWARD!"

But unfortunately, as my luck should have it, my meeting with the healthy schools grant coordinator today was canceled.

I had paced around all morning only to find that the meeting confirmation email I had sent days ago hadn't actually sent. Technology fails me sometimes.

So, in anticipation of continuing my journey towards ingredient transparency, I decided to send another email instead of rescheduling the meeting.

It went sort of like this...

Actually, meeting on Thursday may not be totally necessary. I've thought a lot about our conversation we had over break in regards to the conflict of interest involved in working towards ingredient transparency for our district.


However, it is also clear to me and my teammates that funding through the grant is not absolutely necessary. With that in mind, we will be continuing with our endeavors with a few alterations to our original plans. I intend to further inspire wellness at my school without these constraints.

Thank you for this opportunity and I am sorry that it didn't work out.


So I sent that this morning and hope to get a response by tomorrow. I guess it doesn't really matter anyway... I feel like I've made up my mind by this point.

Now I'm free to do what I need to do.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Decision time

I haven't made any posts in a while as I have been torn.

As I blogged in the past, I had been pointed to the Aramark ingredient disclosure policy listed on their website. On the food allergies page in plain black and white it says:
Upon request, we share with customers all ingredients that go into our final product.

So I emailed the representatives with whom I had spoken before, hoping that maybe the ingredient secrecy had all just been a big mistake on their own policies.

A week later I had received no response. So I forwarded the email to their boss.
And their boss.
And their boss.

The next day I got a phone call. Unfortunately for me, it was not from Aramark, but from the coordinator for a healthy schools grant project I have become involved with.

That day I learned exactly what having a "conflict of interest" meant.

(I would explain further but feel I have an obligation to keep such privileged information to myself)

After that phone call I realized I had a choice to make; either
1. Ignore the fact that Aramark was not following their OWN POLICY and continue with the grant project with which I could inspire wellness in other ways at my school and still work to bring national attention to ingredient transparency or
2. Leave the healthy schools project and fight the wrong

At that point I had no idea what I was going to do. I felt a responsibility for the project and my school... but I was also angry. I felt disrespected for having been ignored by Aramark representatives, and I was flabbergasted by the fact that they were not only being unethical by denying me these ingredients, but were also doing it under the public's false pretense that it wasn't their policy to do so.

That same day I got an email back from Aramark representatives.


Thank you for your inquiry. It is currently being reviewed by our corporate office. We appreciate your patience and will respond accordingly.

Over the weekend I sat on it. I was free to illuminate Aramark and ingredient transparency on a national level but if I chose the healthy schools project I would have to pretend none of this ever happened.

Today I went back to school and talked to some friends and teachers who offered a lot of support and guidance.

Now I know what I have to do.

Tomorrow I have a meeting with the project coordinator.

Tomorrow night I will post another blog.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Refocusing my approach

I had a meeting with a couple school and district administrators today that really made me rethink my original approach to ingredient transparency. It is clear at this point in time that though they may agree with what I am trying to do, it is really out of my district's hands to provide us with transparency.

I care deeply for my school and district, and do not wish to put the blame on them for which they are not responsible. They have actually in the past year not only given me the opportunity to make my school a healthier place by getting me involved in Students Taking Charge, but have also been partaking in the HealthierUS Schools Challenge.

And as far as Aramark goes-
They, or any other school food provider in that matter, on the small level, such as the representatives I have been speaking with, do not have the authority to hand me the ingredients as I am seeking them. Doing so would, as I have learned before, risk their jobs.

With that said;
I believe that national legislation needs to be passed to require ingredient transparency for all school food providers. Not just Aramark, not just district 300.

I am not sure what to do about the petition at this point. I may have to create a new one that does not target Aramark or district 300... I'll finish with my favorite quote.

There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root.

Henry David Thoreau

Oh, and for anyone interested in the email I sent to my district's Aramark reps-
Still no reply. Being a "kid" with no authority is no fun.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Ingredient disclosure policy

Is it possible that Aramark is confused about their own ingredient disclosure policy? Some comments on my guest post for Fed up with School Lunch directed me to the Aramark website.

Interestingly enough, the site states that Aramark already offers the complete ingredient information to anyone who is interested.

Upon request, we share with customers all ingredients that go into our final product.
So, I just sent an email to the Aramark representatives I have been working with as well as a district administrator that has been involved.

I thought I would post the email here for anyone who is interested in seeing how it all pans out!


Hope everyone has been doing well!

I just had a quick question regarding Aramark's policy on releasing ingredients.
Right here on the website it states that all ingredient information is to released upon request:

Upon request, we share with customers all ingredients that go into our final product.

Is there a possibility that you may have made a mistake in not sharing the ingredients with the students and I?

Thanks a lot!


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Q&A Ingredient Transparency petition

I recently made a guest post on Fed up with School Lunch (thanks Mrs. Q!)- and as I was reading through the comments I realized there were a couple aspects of the ingredient transparency movement that needed to be addressed. So thanks to all who posted comments on my guest blog! I really appreciated the support and ideas.

What about getting the calorie content and other nutritional information?

Aramark actually added a cafeteria food nutritional calculator to their District 300 site shortly after I spoke at the board meeting. A few weeks later they presented it to the board, suggesting that they were giving me exactly what I was looking for. However, I made it very clear to them that that simply wasn't the case. It very well may be a law that they have to present nutritional information, but ingredients are not required.

Can I get the ingredient information directly from the cafeteria workers?
I don't know. I haven't asked. Simply because I do not want to create more work for them, or get any of them in trouble. Not only that, but I am a senior at my school. If I spent the time putting together a booklet of facts this year myself, who would do it next year? Who would see that the information was updated when a brand switched? This is a policy change that needs to be enacted to last.

If the school food is this bad, can't you bring a lunch from home?
Yes! And I do. It's difficult being a vegetarian and eating at school as it is, let alone trying to eat something that won't send me into a food-coma for the following hours. However, many of the students at my school do not have that choice. We have a very large population of lower income kids that either eat the lunch or don't eat at all. Ingredient transparency obviously won't solve the food-coma epidemic, but it is a step in illuminating the cause. And hopefully after we get the ingredients out there, the students who are making the choice to buy will start bringing instead. If Aramark saw a drop in sales, they would be forced to cater to those individuals who wish the see their meals high-fructose corn syrup free.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Students Taking Charge and petition updates

So a lot has happened in the past couple of weeks!

I probably should have noted this earlier, but I have become the student leader at my school for a grant project called Students Taking Charge.

Through the project we are to develop a SNAC (Student Nutrition Action Committee), and use the funds we are given to sponser wellness related activities at our school.

For any students or teachers who are interested in improving community wellness, I would definitely suggest you get involved in this project. It's really a great opportunity.

We have decided to break the funds into three projects:
1. Organic vegetable gardening (which we have gotten permission to do on school grounds!!)
2. Yogalates classes- offered free after school for anyone who is interested (even teachers)
3. Wellness knowledge extravaganza! (getting speakers to come in and inspire students to take care of themselves :] )

When these projects get off the ground I will post some pictures and things. Right now I am still in the budgeting and communication stage.

Now as far as the petition goes:
The initial explosion of signatures has sadly slowed. I am finding that the students at school who would be enthusiastic about participating in activism have already been reached out to do so. Really the only way for me to get more signatures is walking up to people with a laptop (which I have been doing a lot in my free time).

I will also be holding another petition signing day during lunches at school in the near future.

And just a note on that, people keep asking me why having these ingredients available to the students is so important. I mean, it sounds like a good idea, but why is it necessary?

Here is my response to that:
By witholding the information as to what is in the food students and teachers eat on a daily basis, Aramark is disabling us from making the choice for many of us to be aware of our own health. It is as if many of us are blindfolded, being forced to trust that a corporation that wants to shield our eyes will also want to take care of our bodies.

And it may sound dramatic but: without these bodies, we are nothing.

316 signatures so far, sign the petition today if you have not already.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Ingredient Transparency Petition

Yesterday I met with my principal in regards to my petition. I wanted her to hear about it from me before she got mixed information from somebody else. I also got the okay from my principal to set up a petition-signing table in the lunchroom during lunches.

So, my friends and I made some posters during CUP. (CUP stands for Charge It Up... my school likes to be the creative type)

And by lunchtime we were off! I gathered up everyone I knew from all of the individual lunches. I also got a couple different teachers to allow me to use their laptops for signing. I thought it was very effective.

Then... we hit a roadblock. About five signatures into lunch the website we were using ( ceased to work. We kept getting this crazy white screen every time a student tried to approve their signature.

So, we had to think fast. I didn't want to, but I decided we should switch to another petition site. This wasn't the first time petitiononline had done this to me, and I was pretty frustrated.

So I copied and pasted the same petition text into another site (

And then we were off again! Overall, it was a success. It also really helped that I had some friends on board. One of which is my friend Sam who is a cheerleader. Not only does she already have a great network, but she had the enthusiasm to get people interested in the project. I have enthusiasm too, but in no way am I a cheerleader.

I would definitely suggest to any other teenagers who are trying to petition at their highschool or middle schools that you should try to get those influential types involved.

Anyway... here are some pictures from the signing.

Also, sign the petition yourself at

(( NOTE: The original petition is at this site: for anyone who is interested in how many signatures we have thus far. Though, please only sign one petition! ))

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A not-so brief history

My name is Tara, and I am a senior at my high school. Last year I became involved in a group at my school whose main purpose was to allow students to have a voice in school policies. Since I have joined the group, I have not thought about rules and regulations the same way.

In November of 2009 I was given an assignment by my English teacher to give a speech at a board meeting. The speech could be about anything you felt needed to be discussed. Being a health-nut myself, my first instinct was to take on the school cafeteria food.

I sent a message to Aramark, our school food provider, that same month. I needed the ingredient information to see what I was dealing with. To my surprise, however, I did not receive an email response back.

A few weeks later I came into contact with my district's associate superintendent. He had heard about our english class speeches and offered his assistance to anyone who planned on speaking at the school board meeting. I brought it to his attention that our district's food coordinators were not responding to my emails.

That day I got an email back from Aramark: "Hey! Sorry, your email had gone to my spam folder..."

I explained then that I needed the ingredient and nutritional information for the foods served in the cafeteria. (I figured at the time that they probably had to have it on file in the case that someone asked for it)

Boy was I wrong. It took another three weeks to get any information about the food, and when I did, it was not what I was expecting. What I got was a word document that had obviously been typed up by someone (there were even some grammatical errors!)

Meatloaf Ingredients: low sodium vegetable soup base, onion powder, egg whites, plain bread crumbs, Worcestershire sauce, black pepper, ground beef

Pasta Bar Ingredients-penne pasta, spaghetti, beef meatballs, tomato sauce, marinara sauce, alfredo sauce

At this point I was a little agitated. Had nobody ever sought out these ingredients before? So, I kept asking for more and more ingredient details. However, I was never satisfied.

On January 11th 2010 I gave my speech at the school board meeting. At the time it was a huge success. (I actually read off all of the ingredients for the low-sodium gravy!) Maybe I will post the actual speech in a future entry. Anyway, after it was presented the associate superintendent was directed by the school board to work with Aramark and I to "fix the lunch".

Six or seven meetings and many unhealthy people of power later, I realized that this was a fight that couldn't be won this way. Unfortunately for the students and I, our state government currently owes our school district more than 6 million dollars. My school administration was far too busy worrying about staff cuts to think about buying wheat bread that doesn't contain high-fructose corn syrup. And honestly, I sympathized with them.

So I changed my goal. I decided that if I couldn't get the crappy food out, I would at least make sure the students knew what they were eating. So I asked Aramark if they could at least make their ingredient information accessible for students.

No? What do you mean no?
Isn't it illegal to withhold this information from consumers?

I was sure that it had to be. So I did my legal research. I even found a federal code that I thought fit. I was actually at that point almost positive that Aramark was breaking the law.

So, I presented the information to Aramark and our district administration. However, they found some loophole (figures). A loophole to prevent students from knowing what they're eating.

Aramark's only defense was that if the ingredients were available to students they might try to recreate the recipes at home and it would decrease sales at school.

Yeah, because every student wants to make their own mystery meatloaf.

So, here I am.
Since then I have come into contact with several different cafeteria lunch reform groups who have offered me much support. (I haven't given up on getting healthier foods OR getting the ingredient information available to students)

I will be using this blog to track my future progress and hopefully offer assistance to those attempting to reform their own cafeteria food, fight for ingredient transparency, or in any way put forth effort to improve local wellness!

Thanks for reading.