SCHOFIELD, Wis. – Students at Wisconsin’s D.C. Everest High School are sending a message to federal officials today by boycotting one-size-fits-all school lunches regulations they believe are too restrictive.
Senior Meghan Hellrood organized the boycott to draw attention to new regulations implemented through the Healthy and Hunger Free Kids Act, the pet project of First Lady Michelle Obama that aims to fight childhood obesity through government bureaucracy.
The federal edicts impose strict limitations on calories, fat, salt, portion sizes and other aspects of food sold at schools participating in the National School Lunch Program that have convinced more than a million students to stop buying lunch at school, devastating school lunch revenues.
The restrictions, which have been phased in since 2012, also resulted in over a $1 billion in food waste in schools across the country due to a requirement that students take a fruit or vegetable, whether they want it or not.
D.C. Everest Principal Tom Johansen told WSAU.com he certainly understands why students there are revolting against the new rules, and the boycott has already prompted federal officials to take action.
“One size fits all doesn’t work real well for the student body. I have kids who are very athletic that have high caloric counts to maintain their energy. I have kids who are very small or non-athletic who don’t, and it makes it difficult for them to fulfill their needs, and they’re concerned about those regulations as a result,” Johansen said.
He said Hellrood’s boycott has already gained the attention of federal officials, likely because of international media coverage proceeding today’s protest.
“I think she’s probably had some positive outcomes from it already,” Johansen said. “The government agency who runs those programs, who sets up those restrictions and guidelines for schools to follow, have communicated with our food service director, and come in and said, ‘What suggestions do you have? And so that’s been a positive outcome already for this particular event.”
Hellrood, who described the school’s lunches as “hardly even edible” for a column in the school newspaper, told the Wausau Daily Herald she has nothing against the school’s lunch program, it’s the federal rules that are the problem.
“We just figured (a boycott) would be the simplest way of doing it,” she said. “We love our faculty and our staff members and our lunch ladies, it’s just the act itself. We just want to show Washington and the act that we don’t agree with it.”
She believes high school students are capable of making their own decisions about nutrition, and the government should get out of the way.
“We’re in high school. We should not be told what to eat and what not to eat,” Hellrood told the Herald. “We should be making those decisions for ourselves.”
Apparently, students in many other school districts agree, and today’s boycott could soon spread to other schools.
“Hopefully, it’ll go nationwide,” she said. “There’s a lot of interest from other students and I’ve received emails from other students who want to do it at their school, so that’s really cool.”
And while students at D.C. Everest are fighting back, others are struggling to keep their student clubs alive because of the federal regulations’ impact on school snack sales.
Snack regulations implemented this year prohibit schools from selling foods that don’t fit within the nutrition limitations during school hours. That has put the kibosh on many school field trips and club fundraisers, including an annual trip for special education students at Henninger High School in Syracuse, New York, according to Syracuse.com.
Those students make baked goods as part of their life lessons curriculum, and used to sell their brownies and cookies outside the lunch room to help fund their trip. Now, because many can’t stay after school to sell their cookies when it’s legal, they simply gobble them up themselves.
“My kids, given their disabilities, can’t stay after school,” teacher Tina DiCarlo told the news site. “We tried gift wrap, but that’s not a seller in our building.”
And while many school districts have opted to forgo federal lunch funding to ditch the lunch regulations and serve students food they’ll actually eat, Syracuse schools depend on the government lunch funds to sustain their food program.
“Snacks as we knew them are gone,” the district’s food service director Ken Warner told Syracuse.com. “It’s a huge change. It’s painful.”