Chicago Public Schools students plan to stage a district-wide school lunch boycott Thursday in protest of the "gross" and "unhealthy" food options they say they are served.
Roosevelt High School civics students are organizing the citywide lunch boycott as part of their campaign -- "The School Lunch Project: Culinary Denial" -- aimed at improving food options in Chicago's public schools.
Students, who say their daily lunch options are usually highly processed foods like pizza, hamburgers and chicken patties, contend their school lunches went downhill after CPS entered into its food services contract with Philadelphia-based Aramark in 2013.
"Today, our lunch at Roosevelt is no better than the ones in Cook County prison," students wrote on their website. "In fact, Aramark is the food service provider for both institutions."
Students have complained of frozen fruit cups, warm milk, pizza with cheese that "tastes like plastic" and "abnormal" tasting chicken patties. They've posted photos of their unappetizing lunches on their website and are calling for a greater variety of healthy school food options, including those suitable for vegetarians.
Prior to their push for a district-wide school lunch boycott, 539 Roosevelt students abstained from eating the school lunch provided at their school on December 7. Their boycott resulted in a meeting the next day with students and representatives from CPS and Aramark.
"[W]e had a productive meeting with Roosevelt High School students, and we look forward to working together to address their needs," CPS spokeswoman Emily Bittner said in a statement last week after the meeting. "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."
The school district, Bittner added, "is committed to serving healthy and nutritious meals to its students, including meat-free options."
Roosevelt civics teacher Tim Meegan described the meeting differently, calling it "disappointing."
At the meeting, Leslie Fowler, director of nutrition support services at CPS, "talked over us and dictated all the terms of the meeting and action steps," Meegan told WBEZ last week. "The students felt very put off. Not only did she cut off students but she talked over me and even Aramark representatives there."
Roosevelt students are now stepping up their campaign, urging their peers across the district to refuse the school-offered lunch on Thursday. They've even grabbed the attention of the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), which has offered to provide vegan lunches to students during their boycott.
"Quality of school food should be nutritious and fresh. But instead, we get prepackaged and processed food every day," reads a posting on the student website. "The only raw meat cooked at school is chicken drumsticks. CPS is in a contract with Aramark but that doesn't mean we deserve this type of food. [U]s as students need healthy and fresh food in order to last the whole day with energy, because some of us have after school activities to participate in."