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Students band together to boycott ‘nasty’ school lunches

A word of warning — you may not want to look at the pictures of these pathetic lunches posted by Chicago high school students unless you have a strong stomach.

Students at Roosevelt High School in northwest Chicago are calling out the unhealthy and even inedible lunches they are being served on a daily basis. The fed-up and reportedly underfed high schoolers have launched The School Lunch Project: Culinary Denial as of Wednesday, with plans to boycott the dismal cafeteria food by mobilizing 1,400 members of the student body. The students have also created a petition to protest “nasty” school lunches produced by Aramark in the hopes that poor lunchtime offerings will be improved.

Well, don’t take our word for it. Would you eat any of this slop high school kids are calling “worse than prison food?”

1. Blue plastic in hamburgers

Plastic hamburger
Image: Duyen Ho

2. Bugs in salad

Bug in salad
Image: Dalia Gomez

3. Cardboard pizza

Cardboard pizza
Image: Shirley Hernandez

4. Frozen fruit cup

Fruit cup
Image: Itzel Perez

5. Just no

Image: Preksha Desai

6. Small portions

Lunch portion
Image: Jasmine Castillo

7. Rotten fruit

Rotten fruit
Image: Itzel Perez

This story is an interesting one because it’s multilayered like an onion. If your first reaction to these pictures was “gross,” then you’re on the right track. These lunches are hard to look at, and it’s safe to say that almost any adult with other options would not eat them. Why are we expecting our kids to do any different?

Right out of the gate, there are some critics of these high schoolers’ methods in protesting unappetizing school lunch. These kids are being told by grown-ups on the Internet that if “they don’t like it, don’t eat it,” or “bring your own lunch.” But what these critics fail to realize is that for many kids in many schools across America, lunch may be the only hot meal they get. And if that meal is lacking or even impossible to eat, these kids won’t be equipped to face the rest of their school day or another hungry evening at home.

More: What you need to know about school lunches

Telling these high schoolers to bring their own lunch is borderline hilarious when you consider the hypocrisy — in 2011, a principal at a Chicago elementary school banned packed lunches and required children to eat cafeteria food so they would get better nutrition. And then we see stories that contrast the nutritious lunches that are supposed to be served up at our nation’s schools, like the viral story above or the Fed Up blog that ranked the grossness of school lunches in 2013 or the students who protested Michelle Obama’s “healthy” school lunches on Twitter in 2014.

It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that school lunches in America have become a joke, and these Chicago high school students are brave enough to call us on it.

Horrible school lunches aren’t just hard to eat. They have academic repercussions too. As Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Education Association, and Billy Shore, founder and CEO of Share Our Strength, emphasize, there does come a point when kids are too hungry to learn. Granted, much of this has to do with children who don’t have access to enough food at home, but if school lunches can’t be eaten, we can only assume it has the same compounding effect.

More: Students, teachers protest racist posters hung in Denver high school

If hungry children are not able to glean much from their sad school lunches, the effect may be even worse. According to the No Kid Hungry campaign, 75 percent of public school teachers have seen students regularly come to school hungry. This hunger can trigger a whole cascade of issues that affect learning and development, like an inability to concentrate, a lack of energy, tiredness, behavioral issues and poor academic performance. In fact, 93 percent of educators believe hunger may have long-term effects on education.

So before we knock these students for being whiny little brats (and not the resourceful, peaceful-minded protesters they really are), let’s think about what we would do with their cafeteria trays in front of us. These students aren’t just throwing a tantrum — they are conducting a well-planned boycott that will deprive Aramark and Chicago Public Schools of thousands of dollars.

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If we want our kids to eat better and do better in school, we can take a moment to listen to what these high schoolers are trying to tell us. We can also sign the petition at to support their actions and end the cafeteria boycott, once better options, quality and portion sizes are made available.

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