The crowd went wild: hooting and hollering its way up the isles and out of the school board auditorium, leaving the room nearly empty so the meeting could continue while the celebration went full blast out in the lobby. Smiles and hugs were interrupted with songs and chants, the elation of a milestone reached after years of hard work.
“This is a huge step for inclusion, equality, and overall fairness,” said Amina Mohammed, Food Justice Momentum Team Member.
On January 12, the San Diego Unified School District School Board unanimously passed a resolution for healthy and diverse school food. Why would the crowd care about what’s in a school lunch? Because many of their children could not eat at school, often going all day without any food.
“Before Halal I used to only eat at school once or twice a week and it was really hard to focus on an empty stomach,” said Emily Yun, Crawford High School Student.
Halal is a way of preparing meat by Muslim tradition, much like Kosher for Jewish tradition. It certifies that the food is less processed and more natural. Although the school system cannot give preference to any religious practices, it can figure out a way that ensures all students are able to eat the same lunch, regardless of religious and cultural differences. This idea was the main focus of the Food Justice Momentum Team at Mid-City Community Advocacy Network. Parents, students, partner organizations, and concerned City Heights residents fought for years to get more lunch options in schools.
“How can motivation be found when your most basic needs are not being met? The undeniable fact is: eating Halal is a way of life. If this part of me can be recognized and my body can be nurtured as well as my mind, the aspirations I strive for will be well within my reach,” said Fadam Adam Haji, Food Justice Momentum Team Member.
The first step toward recognition from the school district came with the Halal Chicken Chili Lime Bowl Pilot that tested twice a week in 2015. Students didn’t just like the option, they wanted even more of it. The number of students who ate school lunch increased by over 100 on days the Halal bowl was offered. The lunch option became so popular that the school started running out, cutting down the days it was served from twice a week to just once a week. In 2016, the school district started offering the Halal lunch at five elementary schools in the area as well.
“Hopefully we can make sure that we’re having more locally grown, organic food in our schools for all of our kids to benefit, and by having that nutrition, we hope that in the future that we can make sure that that’s meeting the diverse needs of all of our students at all of our schools are being met,” said Kevin Beiser, SDUSD School Board Member.
The Food Justice team doesn’t just want a Halal option to include Muslim students; the larger goal is for healthy school food that every student is able to eat, so they proposed a resolution for the entire school district. The team showed up in force at the school board meeting, sharing their stories with the school board.
“What started off as just changing school food turned into so much more,” said Guadalupe Barron, Crawford High School Food Justice Club President. “It’s altering my life and changing the way I view my community. Not only did we accomplish getting a halal option, but we changed students’ mindsets. Students are now more confidents and excited about collaborating and making a difference”
The Food Justice Momentum Team win represents years of organizing, advocacy, and dedication from City Heights resident leaders and partners: Bahati Mamas, City Heights Youth For Change, Comité Organizador Latino, Crawford AVID Class of 2016, Crawford Food and Social Justice Club, Cindy Page, Danielle Vincent-Griffiths, Andrea Cascia, Michelle Stuart, Brian Black, Naomi Raffel, Mary (Lizlo) Conner, Gary Petill and SDUSD Food and Nutrition Services Department, Somali Bantu Community of San Diego, Trustee Richard Barrera, UCSD Center for Community Health, United Women of East Africa, American Heart Association, Josen Masangkay Diaz, and Parent Students Resident Organization.