For the 2015 school year, a chicken strutted up and down the campus of Crawford High School every Wednesday and Friday. Although the suit is funny, the idea behind the chicken is very serious: healthy school meals for every student.
“We have the most diverse community in City Heights alone. Different people want different types of food,” said Gary Petill, Director of Food and Nutritional Services at San Diego Unified School District.
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.
“It seems reasonable,” said Petill, “I understand people want to preserve their culture.”
Through Mid-City CAN, students formed a Food Justice Momentum Team campaign to emphasize healthy and culturally appropriate foods in schools. Their solution: Halal chicken. Halal is an Islamic term that designates food – usually meat – and its preparation as permissible for Muslims to eat. Although this religious reference can make some uncomfortable, students want to let the community know that this campaign benefits everyone, regardless of religion or culture.
“Halal isn’t only for a specific religion. It’s for everyone. With the food industry the way it is, animals don’t grow up healthy or clean, and having food be Halal certified lets you know it’s healthy and not processed with harmful chemicals,” said Rosa Duarte, Junior at Crawford High School, “If we can have food everyone can eat, why wouldn’t we?”
This new lunch offering, which costs 19 cents more than non-halal drumsticks, is free-range, antibiotic and hormone free, and oven-baked on site at Crawford. This is just one of many lunch changes the district is making in various areas, which include California Thursdays, Baja beach and Asian bowl.
“Before we started with the Halal Chicken, our lunch counts were around 717 to 734. With the chicken, our participation increased over 100 serves on Wednesdays and Fridays,” said Jodi Marciniak, Crawford Cluster Food Service Supervisor.
The Halal option is so popular among students that the school is running out of supplies, and has now cut the bowls back to once a week on Wednesdays.
“It might seem like a small thing just to change the school menu. It’s more important than that,” said Rosa Duarte, Junior at Crawford High School, “More students are eating now, which is great because some families can’t afford to feed their children.”
With the success of the pilot, Rosa hopes the idea of food justice spreads further than their group can take it alone.
“I want to bring this to as many inner-city schools as we can. At Crawford it’s the Halal option, but in a different area it might be something else. We should all get involved at making sure as many people can eat as possible.”