A few weeks ago I posted twice (here and here) about a school food boycott at Milby, a high school serving a relatively underprivileged Hispanic population in east Houston. Those two posts received quite a lot of comments, especially on the Houston Chronicle version of my site.
One theme that emerged is whether I was somehow duped by Hector Sanchez, the student who led the boycott. Both Hector and the Milby teacher who first told me about the boycott had complained that, among other problems, the cafeteria offered “nothing but burgers and pizza, all the time.” In fact, I later found out that besides the Grill and the Pizzeria, there’s also a “Favorites” menu each day which offers more variety. So why hadn’t anyone mentioned that menu?
One TLT reader, Alison Moore Smith, summed up well the concern that I’d been used. (By the way, Alison is also the wonderful website guru who helps me out of tech jams all the time on TLT). She wrote:
When I asked Sanchez about the “Favorites” menu, at first he claimed he’d never seen such foods in the lunchroom. When pressed he said that these foods didn’t look at all appealing, and that he would text me photos to prove his point.
I think this paragraph bears repeating. The teacher and the kid lied about the favorites menu because it didn’t support their point.
Even then, I don’t think a cell phone photo will prove anything. First, the kid is willing to misrepresent the services, so he’s unlikely to send a photo of something that looks good. Second, I know from experience that even when you’re trying to take good a picture of food that looks and tastes fine, it can be hard. Look at these sloppy joes! They look terrible. And a friend of mine posted a pic of some balsamic beans on her blog last week (because she loves them) that positively looked like a bag of vomit.
Food photography is an art and a kid with a cell phone and an agenda — who has been shown to have no credibility — isn’t going to give the school a fair shake.
Honestly, you have a plethora of choices of food other people prepare and subsidize and you’re going to complain? That’s kind of appalling to me. I was just raised differently. If you don’t like it, bring a sandwich in a bag. If the kids can’t manage to find something — among the SEVEN daily lunch choices (for a $1.85!!!) — do we ever let the nearly-adult kids and their parents take the responsibility?
Sounds like you’ve got a kid who wanted to start a movement, found an easy scapegoat, and said whatever he wanted to draw some attention.
Sorry, I’m no huge school fan. (I homeschool my six kids.) But I’m a huge fan of equity and fairness. And integrity. There are real people taking the brunt of this “cause,” not just a nameless, faceless menu. The kid (and teacher) aren’t credible and their attempts to smear others should only be given air time to come back on them.
I’ll be quiet now.
Here’s what I wrote back to Alison at the time:
The sentiments you express haven’t been shared here by other readers, but over on my Chronicle version of The Lunch Tray, which seems to draw a more politically conservative group, many readers have said the same thing — essentially that I was duped. I could see how you’d draw that conclusion, but I really don’t feel that way and here’s why:
First, you could argue (and you have) that Hector was just trying to rabble-rouse and therefore intentionally misrepresented to me that the school serves only burgers and pizza. I don’t believe that’s what was going on, but even it if was the case, you cannot say the same for the teacher I met on the airplane. She didn’t know me at all, and had no idea until after we spoke that I might want to write about her. (Even then I don’t think she fully understood what I do or what I meant when I said I had a blog.) She was not in any way seeking attention, just making chit-chat with a seat mate on the plane. Yet she, too, seemed to be ignoring the favorites menu and said, “all we get is burgers and pizza, or burgers and chicken, over and over.” I even said to her, would you eat a salad, and she said, definitely! Yet salads sometimes appear on the Favorites menu, albeit shrink-wrapped in plastic and prepared sometime (days?) before appearing on the line.
SOMETHING is going on here. Is it the fact that the school is almost 100% Hispanic and economically disadvantaged, and the population is accustomed to fast food and simply will not try the other foods? (When I asked Hector if kids were bringing lunch from home during the boycott, I was told, no, they were getting fast food brought in by their parents.) Is it, as Hector maintains, that the food in that line is so unappetizing that no one wants to try it? Clearly more info is needed, and I may need to gather further details from Brian Giles and/or make trip to Milby myself to figure out what the issue is.
Second, I don’t feel at all sorry that there are people taking the brunt of Hector’s statements to me. If you read the complaints on the boycott Facebook page (and again, when kids posted there they had no idea that anyone but other Milby kids were looking) and then read Mr. Giles’s response, it seems clear to me that there WAS a problem with food prep – undercooked food, etc. No one should have to eat frozen fries or pink burgers and if Hector’s complaining and my post led to a correction of the problem, I feel proud to have helped those kids out.
Finally, I’m not too worried about the accuracy of cell phone photos if Hector does come through on that. I have gone into my own kids’ public school lunch room, in a relatively affluent neighborhood in central Houston, btw, and have seen (and photographed) poorly prepared food – items that are still frozen, items like green vegetables that are grossly overcooked, to the point of almost being brown, etc. No amount of food styling is going to help some of those items and I believe that my own cell phone photos accurately represent exactly what I saw or I wouldn’t post them here (as I sometimes do.)
I truly do not believe that Hector acted without integrity here. He had no idea that he’d get press attention for his efforts – and but for my chance encounter on the plane no one — not even HISD Food Services – would likely have even heard about it.
Those are my two cents. Now, will you still do my tech work?
In the meantime, I’ve spoken with HISD Media Relations and have been given permission to visit Milby unannounced in order to get my own sense of the cafeteria and its food, and to take my own pictures. I won’t be able to talk to students and I do have to provide an hour’s notice to HISD so that someone from Media Relations and someone from Food Services can accompany me.
I’ll post those photos and share my impressions when I have them, along with a follow-up report on what might — or might not — have been going wrong with the food at Milby.
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