ABILENE, Kan. (WIBW) -- It’s a hot topic that’s made headlines across the country- students saying that they are left hungry from not getting enough food thanks to new federal guidelines governing what and how much kids are served in school lunches.
The national spotlight has been on Abilene High School students who are taking a stand by bringing their own lunches and eating outside of their cafeteria to protest the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act which increases the required number of servings of fruits and vegetables and cuts down on the calorie content of food items offered to students. The bill is designed to improve nutrition and focuses on reducing childhood obesity.
"There’s smaller portions, not enough protein, I’m hungry at the end of the day. It forces me to eat when I get home. I bring my own lunch and I pack it with a lot better stuff. I pack it with chicken and meat, more meat than the school gives us of course, so I’m not hungry when I get home," said freshman Gehrig Geissinger.
"We don’t feel that the lunch portions are enough and the quality isn’t good enough to make up for it so we’re bringing our own sack lunches to have a healthy meal where we feel that we’re getting enough food... I feel more energetic and I’m having foods that I like too, not jut whatever they have at school. There hasn’t been a negative for bringing my own lunch," said sophomore Keegun Gose.
In the first three days of the protest, the school served half of the lunches they normally do.
Several hundred students have taken part in the peaceful protest, which has been covered by news agencies throughout the country, including USA today.
The protest came about when students were learning about Gandhi in World History class and how he led India to independence from British colonial rule through the practice of nonviolent civil disobedience. They wanted to use his example and practices and apply them to an issue that directly impacted them.
"We had been studying Gandhi and a student said, ‘It’s too bad we can’t do what Gandhi did to bring out a change in school lunches.'...
It’s been very inspiring to see these students doing this. While they want to see the change to the Healthy and Hunger Free Act of 2010, they have discovered that they have a voice and that they can be heard and they can try to bring about change in a positive manner," said World History teacher Wendy Sherbert.
School principal Ben Smith added: "It’s pretty neat to see kids get together and do something that they feel makes a difference and to have a voice and to use that voice in an appropriate manner. I can’t reiterate enough how proud I am of these students for doing things in a civil manner. They’re not walking out of school, they’re not walking out of class. They’ve been 100% respectful both to the facility and to our workers here. And they know it’s not our kitchen staff or our food service director who is responsible for the changes that affect their school lunches and so as far as that goes, I couldn’t be more pleased with how they chose to handle it."
Kyleen Krehbiel, Food Service Director for Abilene Schools, wishes students would take a chance on school lunches, telling 13 News that the meals are balanced and that extra portions are available. She is supportive of students' effort to apply what they've learned in class to a current issue but she's concerned that the protest is sending more students to the snack bar.
"I really do want students to have feedback in the menu-planning process. I want them to be able to pick new entrees and new fruits and vegetables because the ultimate goal is to get students excited about eating healthy foods and that’ll increase consumption because right now, I’m concerned that students aren’t eating everything that’s offered," she said.
Smith, the principal, says the school can lose money because there’s a reimbursement that comes back to them for lunches that are sold.
"We’re not going to end up feeling it a whole lot and they do know that there’s just a little bit of a crunch that the school might end up feeling but at the same time, they don’t want to hurt the school because they know it’s not the school’s fault. What they’re hoping is what the school feels, if everybody did it, eventually it would make sense to the federal government that maybe they could do things a little different," he told WIBW.