My Generation Can: Public Narratives for Community Change
Portrait photography by Jennifer Waddell.

From Chapter 2: Bruised Apples & Sour Milk—Issues Facing Students in Schools

JIHAD (left)

Back in elementary school, lunches were bad, but in high school they’re godawful. When I started school in North Carolina, I used to steal peanuts after school because I didn’t eat lunch. When I was a freshman in high school, I only ate on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays—pizza days. When I moved to Boston a couple years ago, lunch was even worse. Even the pizza wasn’t good. Instead of lunch, I ate strawberry Pop Tarts and peanuts instead.

I’m a tall guy—six feet, five inches—and I guess I need to eat a lot but the food tastes so bad that I’ll just wait until I get home to eat. I can cook enough. Sometimes I have money and I get McDonald’s. Sometimes I eat the carrots from the school lunch. Even the milk is nasty.

JEROME (right)

It’s lunch time and I’m a freshman at the Edward M. Kennedy Academy for Health Careers. I’m hungry and ready to eat. My imagination is running wild, imagining something tasty and healthy, like a chicken caesar salad. I get down to the lunchroom, get me a chocolate milk, and I see a tray with fake-looking spaghetti and meatballs that reminds me of worms with dirt balls. That delicious meal in my head disappears faster than a speeding bullet. If you think it can’t get worse, you’re wrong. They follow the worms and dirt balls up with some bruised up apples and sour milk.

Throughout ninth and tenth grade I’ve been eating poor lunches provided by the National School Lunch Program. On the plus side, all Boston Public School students get free meals from breakfast and lunch through this program, regardless of income. But it’s generous to call what they serve “meals.”

[Note: Jihad and Jerome wrote the rest of this narrative collaboratively.]

According to Orin Gutlerner, the Director of Education for the Shah Foundation, for most BPS students school lunch right now is just reheated food from out in New Jersey. Most of the money is spent on transporting the food here rather than on the ingredients themselves. It is crucial to resolve the issue of better school lunches because kids aren’t getting the right type of energy into their system that is going to keep them awake and energized during class.

The good news is that change might be on the way. The Shah Foundation has partnered with Boston Public Schools to try something out called My Way Café. Piloted first in East Boston, it is a program where schools are outfitted with new kitchens and provided with fresh ingredients to cook and serve to their students. It will be expanding to all schools in the East Boston, Roxbury, and Mattapan areas, next year.

In the nearer term, a company called Revolution Foods has taken over the district’s prepared breakfast and lunch program in most of the city’s schools this fall. Started by two moms, this company aims to move the district away from frozen and preserved foods. This is important to my research because the city of Boston needs to collaborate with some type of restaurant or partner so students can have better and healthier lunches.

These are steps in the right direction, but we can do better. All BPS students, regardless of where they go to school, should have FRESH FOOD prepared on the spot. It’s hypocritical to teach health classes and talk about the importance of nutrition, but then serve students slop.

We urge all BPS students to contact the student representatives on the BPS School Council and tell them how important it is that school lunch be changed as soon as possible. Programs like My Way Café should be fast-tracked and rolled out to as many students as possible. If we change this, school could become a better, more productive experience for all.

Buy The Book

Like this story? Own the Book!

My Generation Can: Public Narratives for Community Change

Written by 12th graders at the E.M. Kennedy Academy for Health Careers. Foreword by Sonia Chang-Diaz, Massachusetts State Senator.

View In Store Read more from this book »

Share this story

Join our newsletter