Students, parents, and community members gathered at Crawford High School on June 10, 2015 to celebrate the success of integrating a Halal option for lunch. After two years of advocating and three months of testing the Halal Chicken Chili Lime Bowl pilot program, the students held their breath for the final verdict, waiting to see if the school district would continue to offer the lunch next year.
“There’s only one way to find out what the students will eat and that’s listening to the students tell you about the food they want to eat. So we hear you,” said Gary Petill, Director of Food and Nutritional Services at San Diego Unified School District. “We’re going to continue to work with you. We’re going to continue the Halal Chicken Drumsticks next year!”
A loud cheer of shock and relief went out, followed by a round of applause. That shock turned into disbelief as the announcement continued.
“We’re going to serve this chicken bowl in every single high school next year because of you guys,” said Petil.
The Mid-City CAN Food Justice Momentum Team spearheaded the effort, prompted by parents who were concerned that their children weren’t eating at school because there was no Halal option. For many students in City Heights, school lunches may be the only nutrient-rich meal they eat all day, especially those whose families cannot afford to send them to school with a homemade lunch. With food options that some cultures cannot eat, many students go hungry, affecting their ability to focus in class and participate in afterschool activities.
“You can clearly see that your actions have resulted in change and that’s what it’s all about: you getting involved and being the change that you want to see. That’s what’s happened here and we need to grow it.” Marti Emerald
Halal chicken is just one of many lunch changes the district is making in various areas, which include Taco Tuesdays, California Thursdays, Baja beach and Asian bowl. These changes are meant to cater toward the diverse populations of San Diego, providing healthy and culturally appropriate food that students will actually eat.
“We have vegetarian options and salad bars, but we know that students don’t want to eat vegetarian and salad all the time,” said Petil.
This new lunch offering, which costs only three or four cents more than non-halal drumsticks, is free-range, antibiotic and hormone free, and oven-baked on site at Crawford.
“We didn’t think anyone was going to eat the lunch and it would be taken away. But then people started eating it, different races and cultures, and everyone liked it better,” said Yasmin Hersi, Freshman at Crawford High.
“Halal chicken is just one small change that has helped more people be able to eat healthier food and be more successful because they are fed well,” said Tim Truong, member of halal chicken campaign.
“I hope more change happens. This started because of religious reasons, but now everyone can eat the chicken no matter what they believe,” said Truong. “It’s really powerful to see people advocating for others,”
Finding food that every student can eat was the same idea reinforced by Petil as he looked out on the crowd of students who celebrated the success that was earned through their own hard work.
“It’s not just a Halal dish… it’s every student’s dish,” said Petil. “This is just the beginning of what we’re going to do together.”