About a dozen school lunchroom workers protested outside Chicago Public Schools’ headquarters today and called on the Board of Education to phase out its frozen food model and provide healthier meals for students. Progress Illinois was there for the rally.
About a dozen school lunchroom workers gathered outside Chicago Public Schools’ (CPS) headquarters today and called on the Board of Education to phase out its frozen food model and provide healthier meals to students.
The rally comes on the same day as companies looking to win a new food service contract to manage CPS' $228 million food program submitted their proposals, according to members of UNITE HERE Local 1, which represents the food service workers.
It's not yet clear how much of the food money would be spent on freshly cooked or frozen and pre-packaged meals, the workers said.
"We feel that our kids deserve fresh cooked food everyday," said lunchroom worker Linda Green. "They get it at home, they get it when they go out. How come not when they go to school? They’re in school half [of] the day."
In order to have a say in the matter, the workers delivered a petition with more than 2,100 signatures to Leslie Fowler, director of CPS Nutrition Support Services. The petition called for more healthy — and less frozen — foods in schools.
About 25 percent of schools in the district use pre-made meals that arrive frozen and are reheated later, according to UNITE HERE Local 1.
Lunch lady Gijuwanda Williams said the workers want to teach students how to eat better, but instead many of kids are eating processed foods.
“I’m just asking the Board of Education now to help us help our children beat the obesity in the country,” she said.
Here's more from Williams:
For 10 months out of the year, some CPS students have to eat food that’s been frozen for “God knows how long,” Green added.
"If you read the labels, it’s a bunch of preservatives, a bunch of chemicals and stuff to preserve the food and make it taste good," she said.
Marshall Metro High School lunchroom worker Brenda Nichols said not only are freshly-made meals more nutritious for kids, it also will create "more work for us to be doing, longer hours and we get to keep our jobs."
"We want to continue to cook," she said.
The workers said they believe the board is moving in the right direction. Last year, through collective bargaining, the lunchroom workers and the board made a deal to put a moratorium on changing cooking kitchens into warming kitchens, which are used mostly for heating pre-plated and frozen food.
The board and the workers also created a Good Food Committee, which aims to promote best practices for providing kids with healthy and sustainable foods.
Kohn Elementary lunchroom worker Takeeva Thompson said some students at her school get excited when they smell the food cooking because oftentimes they didn't have much to eat on the weekends. And it's imperative the food served to students is nutritious, she added.
"We know that eating healthy foods or eating fresh foods [helps] them to learn better," she said.
Here's what else Thompson said: