Think back to your favorite meal as a kid…
The one that you crave now when you need to feel comforted, safe, loved, and secure. We remember the feelings associated with these comfort foods, and we come back to them throughout our lives because food is a way we express love, and those memories of feeling loved and cared for last our entire lives.
So what does it say when a place feeds you food that is barely edible? Food that comes frozen solid (but is meant to be cooked), food that is moldy, or meat that is questionably colored? What kind of feelings do we associate when we are served food that for those of us privileged enough to get to choose what we eat cringe at?
Recently, a picture of an RCSD school lunch went viral on social media. It caught the attention of parents, students, and staff alike. The larger community was horrified to see what the Rochester City School District was serving to their students. The news covered the lunch scandal, and a petition continues to circulate with nearly 2,000 signatures demanding hot and healthy lunches for students of the RCSD.
Why the uproar? Why did this issue, over so many others, capture the attention of the community outside the four walls of the schools in the district? I think the answer is the way food makes us feel. Those visceral emotions we attach to food that last a lifetime. If your mom’s chicken soup makes you feel safe and loved, what does a moldy mystery meat sandwich make you feel?
Research shows that students whose schools are inviting places, loving and safe places, with clean air and clean facilities, succeed academically. Is it any wonder then, that the Rochester City School District is repeatedly cited as one of the lowest performing school districts in the country? When we feed children in a way that says, “We don’t love you. We don’t care about you. We cannot be bothered to even check for mold before we serve you this meal?” The feelings of rejection, of disrespect, associated with the meals we serve our students in this district certainly seep into the way they feel about school in general. And while meals in the district had been slowly getting more palatable in the last decade, a recent decimation of the kitchen staff in a mass layoff that occurred during the 2019-2020 school year ensured that the food we served would be cold and would be downright disgusting. Not to mention the fact that the vast majority of these workers are also parents of students in the district, causing a double injury to the children who were impacted.
As a former RCSD student myself, but one who came from a food secure home and had the privilege of packing my own lunch, I never wanted to eat the school lunches. I also never saw the meals that surrounding districts in the county served to their students. For the purposes of comparing, I asked community members to share their district’s school lunches. The comparison, like all comparisons between the RCSD and the surrounding suburban schools, should bring public outcry, and should cause every caring human to demand change.
Here is the lunch that caused the initial outcry in the RCSD, and this one from a few days later.
Now here are pictures of the lunches at Wheatland-Chili, Renaissance Academy Charter School, and Brighton Central School District:
What I see, with these pictures, with this stark contrast of food options, is that we value the children in the suburban and charter schools, as a society, more than we value the children in the Rochester City School District.
As a representation of the lack of resources, lack of funding, lack of value placed on the children in the Rochester City School District, nothing speaks louder than these simple pictures of what we offer our children to eat.
If food is love, then we are showing very little to the 26,000 students who attend the RCSD.
Take action and sign the petition here.
About Claire Labrosa
(she/her/hers) Claire Labrosa is an English as a New Language teacher in the Rochester City School District, and a founding member of the Rochester Organization of Rank and File Educators (RORE) a social justice caucus in the RTA. Claire is a lifelong Rochester resident, a graduate of the RCSD, and a passionate advocate for equitable and fully funded public education.