This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
Although school food may not seem like a big issue to some, healthy lunches are as important to students as textbooks. Students who don’t receive nutritional options could lag behind academically. Youth United for Change members say that’s why they have made advocating for healthy school lunches a top priority.
“We believe that healthier school lunches are important because they help us focus better,” said Shyann Williams, a Kensington Urban Education Academy student and YUC member.
Williams said YUC was encouraged to tackle this issue after seeing other organizations rally around the topic.
In November, YUC member Taisha Martinez from Kensington CAPA testified before the School Reform Commission about school food and laid out six demands. One was a call for the District to require greater transparency from Maramont Corp., a large food shipping, freezing, and processing company responsible for all the prepackaged meals delivered to the District’s schools. YUC asked that the District issue a Request for Proposals to allow other companies to bid on the food service contract.
“Maramont has one of the District’s largest contracts, but it does not report to the District how much it spends on items,” Martinez said in her statement. “This means Maramont could be overcharging the District. If we are being overcharged and underserved, we need to know.”
According to Wayne Grasela, senior vice president of the District’s division of food services, the District held a one-year contract with Maramont for $30.9 million. That contract was renewed in December for next school year at an amount not to exceed $32.5 million. Grasela said that’s $2 million less than what the SRC originally approved for next school year.
The new contract will allow for the reopening of more full-service kitchens, which was another of YUC’s demands.
Though YUC didn’t get everything it wanted regarding Maramont, Grasela said the District is considering its other demands. YUC also called on the District to:
- Post nutritional information on all food
- Require 20 percent of all food purchases from local farmers to allow investment in the local communities and offer fresher options
- Permit youth involvement in food policy decisions
- Create a centralized kitchen and distribution center.
“Students deserve healthy, nutritious school meals,” Martinez said. “This is a critical issue in our education and a critical opportunity for change.”