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.