UPDATE: Mr. Alex Anemone, principal of Glenfield School, has informed Barista Kids that the slushy machine appeared at the school after spring break and will be removed this afternoon.
Over the past ten years our school meals have been truly awful. From being unappealing visually and taste wise to failing to meet nutritional standards set by the government, they have it all. Through lack of oversight and lack of interest the food services continued to fail our students until it reached the point that dollars were failing too. Finally the district took notice and announced a new vendor would be sought with the help of a consultant.
Three weeks ago I spoke at a BOE meeting laying the foundations for our Montclair Food Revolution School Lunch Reform. I outlined some fairly simple and rational goals, all attainable, all within reach and all with far reaching positive consequences. If we can offer our students nutritious, appetizing appealing food we will serve their nutritional needs and thereby help improve concentration and focus (as many studies have attested to). We can help close our achievement gap. We can be part of the solution tackling our nations alarming obesity and diabetes rates in children. We can be forward thinking and innovative in our school meal program, expanding it to snack options for those with longer school days and very early or late lunch times. We can be in line with the current national trend towards promoting healthier lifestyle choices in our schools.
Our Task Force has researched numerous districts and food program models, we have looked at our own district and we know we can achieve all this affordably and indeed increase the number of children who buy lunch. Many parents, who presently would not entertain that notion, would be glad to have the option of paying for a lunch they and their children would be happy with.
In that same BOE meeting Dr Alvarez said that the food service goals were both to not lose money and to be more healthy. Dana Sullivan, Montclair School District Business Administrator, said they were looking to replace Aramark because “we’ve lost a lot of money on the program and because we’ve heard complaints from parents.” Robin Kulwin BOE member said the district’s effort to improve the lunch program was helped by students and parents. “They will be working with us to hopefully have the best food service program available,” Kulwin said.
Those present at the meeting were told that our Task Force would be a part of the process and that we would work with the consultant the district had hired to ensure that the voices of the many hundreds of parents and students we now represent would be heard.
What has happened since then?
Well, there appears to have been one change. According to emails and calls from horrified parents Glenfield and Mt Hebron Middle Schools got Slushie machines. The only way to describe this is a big step backwards. Now there is a $1.50 purchase available to our students which offers empty calories. At a time when schools nationwide are moving away from offering basic fruit juice for this very reason we have gone one step further in the wrong direction by offering a fruit juice based product with the added bonus of colorings. The FDA is presently considering adding label warnings about the risks of hyperactivity from food colorings. What happened to progressive Montclair? What happened to innovative Montclair? What happened to a Montclair which looks out for our children?
To say our faith in the system is shaken by this move would be an understatement and yet…we do not want to be adversarial. We want to work together with the district to offer our children the best we can. We invite Dana Sullivan, Dr Alvarez and the Board to work with us to ensure we have the best possible RFP put out to bid.
So far the public promise of working with us has not been met. After an initial meeting with the consultant we have not had further communication. The Slushie arrival came at a time when we had recommended natural vending machines which offer healthy, all-natural and organic snacks and beverages such as fresh cut fruit and vegetables and yogurt. These could be installed and run at zero cost. This service would provide the district with an immediate improvement in options available to students and instant revenue. We would much rather see these types of ‘a la carte’ options available than the present cookies and, now, slushies. This service is available right now and is installed in thousands of schools and even the USDA offices in Washington DC.
So, what next? On Monday, May 2 (and again on Monday, May 16) at 7.30 pm in the High School George Innes Annex Cafeteria, there will be a BOE meeting. Please come to the meeting. If you have comments to make sign up to be heard. If you support our goals of nutritious, appetizing, appealing food in our schools come and be counted. Sign our petition. Help us to better serve our children, even if you know your own kids are just fine remember there are at least 20% of our students who rely on these meals every day.
Melina Macall is the founder of Boxed Organics, a local organic food coop and CSA and a food activist. She is the parent of 4 children in the Montclair Public School District.