#BrownBagginIt: A lunchroom food fight trends in Plum
Share with others:
When students in the Plum School District returned to school on Monday, they sat down to lunch and didn't like what was on their plates.
High school students took to Twitter to express displeasure with increased prices and decreased portions, but officials say they're only following new U.S. Department of Agriculture requirements that place limits on the number of calories in a well-balanced lunch.
Using the hashtag #BrownBagginIt, which was trending in the Pittsburgh area on Twitter on Wednesday, Plum students pledged to bring lunches from home instead of paying for school lunch, which now costs $2.50 compared to $2.25 last year.
The USDA guidelines announced in January require any school that participates in the federally subsidized National School Lunch Program to reduce the number of calories in a meal based on the age of the students and offer more whole grains, fruits and vegetables. Schools also are required to eliminate trans fats and reduce sodium content, and each student must take a fruit and a vegetable as part of any federally subsidized meal.
Maryann Lazzaro, the food service director at Plum, said she's gradually introduced foods like whole-grain breads and pizza crust over the last few years, and the district did away with whole milk years ago.
"A lot of those changes went unnoticed by the students," she said.
But not this year. Students noticed smaller wraps and slices of pizza and lamented paying 25 cents more for a smaller meal.
A boy using the Twitter handle @matthews1_will tweeted, "everybody in plum who is in elementary to high school start #BrownBagginit to protest against the district high prices and low quality food."
Ms. Lazzaro said the wraps are smaller, pizzas are now cut into 10 slices instead of eight, and two hot dogs for lunch is no longer feasible under the new requirements.
"You can't put two hot dogs on a tray and meet the [standards] anymore," she said. "As far as the whole boycott goes, we haven't changed quality. We've changed quantity in a minimum way."
The increased price of school lunches at Plum is largely a result of a change in federal standards to ensure federal subsidies for free student lunches don't also fund full-price lunches, Ms. Lazzaro said.
She added that a nationwide drought also increased the price of fruits and vegetables, and she has to buy more of those under the new requirements.
Plum resident Kim Yohe, whose daughter, Madison, is a freshman at Plum Senior High School, said she's not sure if the students are fully aware of what they're protesting, and only a few tweets out of thousands specifically referenced the new federal requirements.
But superintendent Timothy Glasspool said students are upset that the federal government is "overstepping its boundary and purpose."
"As consumers, that's how they express their dissatisfaction," he said.
Despite the fact that the USDA changes affect schools nationwide, the protests and the use of #BrownBagginIt on Twitter hasn't spread. A few tweets indicated students were attempting to stage a similar protest in the Hempfield Area School District, but it didn't take off.
Charise Johnson, Hempfield's director of dining services, said she heard rumblings of a possible protest, but she said she didn't see a decrease in the number of students buying school lunches.
Over the past few days, Plum students posted photos of brown paper bags labeled #BrownBagginIt, as well as snapshots of what they intend to pack in their lunches, including Lunchables, graham cracker sticks with a jar of Nutella, Pop-Tarts, Hostess mini muffins, Uncrustables peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and pudding.
But Ms. Yohe, who blogs about running and nutrition at thisrunnersfuel.com, said her daughter intends to pack a lunch because the new requirements still don't make lunches healthy enough.
"She's not a hot dog eater, or chicken nuggets or 'McRib' sandwiches," she said, noting Madison instead packs a turkey breast sandwich on whole wheat, cucumber slices, a banana and Triscuit crackers.
"She doesn't want to eat it, but if the choices were a little healthier," perhaps Madison would eat lunch at school, she said.
Ms. Lazzaro countered that students at the high school have options including the daily hot meal, deli sandwiches and a salad bar. She said she tries to offer five to 10 fruit options daily, depending on the season. This week, Plum offered cantaloupe, honeydew, watermelon, green and red grapes, pure fruit juices and canned fruit, she said.
But Sean Doyle, a 17-year-old Plum senior, said most fruit options come in sealed plastic containers, and fresh grapes were "sour and soggy." He said a lot of the better fruit options, which students are required to take under the new requirements, run out quickly "because if you have to take one, you're not going to take the nasty fruit."
He said he and other Plum students participating in the protest understand the school has to adhere to federal guidelines; they just want higher-quality food.
"The way that our school went about it, they gave us low-quality fruits, low-quality french fries," he said. "They just tried to do too much all at once.
"I know we're just high school kids, but we're citizens like everyone else."
First Published September 1, 2012 12:00 am