Highline Students Advocate for Less Pizza, More Greens in the Cafeteria
Evergreen High School Students Work with District Nutritionist for Healthier Food at School
Contact: Monica Thomas, Communications & Development Manager
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March 28, 2018
WHITE CENTER, WA – In a step toward better school nutrition, students at Evergreen High School are getting a say in what goes on the lunch menu. Youth leaders of FEEST – which stands for Food Empowerment Education and Sustainability Team – won an unprecedented student advisory committee with Highline Public Schools to ensure more culturally relevant and fresh food items in the cafeteria.
Khatami Chau, senior at Evergreen High School and second-year organizer with FEEST, relies on school food to get through classes and through sports after school.
“I wish we had more variety, more fresh foods instead of pizza,” he said. “And I’d love to see my culture reflected in the school menu.” Chau is a first-generation immigrant whose family comes from the Cham people of Southeast Asia.
In the Highline district, 77 percent of students are people of color and 63 percent qualify for free or reduced-price meals. Student organizers like Chau have been advocating to the district for a menu that better reflects the diversity of the student body and offers healthier meal options.
As Highline Public Schools works to improve nutrition across the district, student organizers have developed a strong partnership with decision makers. The committee of teenagers meets monthly with the district’s Dietician Kris Marsh and Nutrition Services Director Lisa Johnson to give feedback in menu planning, marketing, and nutrition policies.
“This kind of partnership is truly unprecedented,” said Lisa Chen, executive director of FEEST. “We’re really thankful to Highline Public Schools for welcoming youth to the table. Kris and Lisa have been really responsive to students’ ideas. It’s been a great opportunity to enhance the work that they’re doing by including the voices of young people.”
FEEST is a nonprofit organization based in White Center that works alongside young people to tackle issues of food injustice. After-school programs in low-income communities of color serve as an incubator for youth leadership, where students learn about and share healthy meals and develop the skills to address challenges to health access in their communities.
Every month, FEEST youth create an item for students to sample at lunch with hopes of landing it on the menu. Each dish is required to meet the district’s nutrition standards related to fat, sodium, and sugar content, as well as essential food groups and nutrients. Earlier this school year, Evergreen High School students developed a recipe for butternut squash curry that hit the mark of being healthy, delicious, and culturally relevant.
“It tasted like my grandma’s cooking,” one student remarked.
The butternut squash curry recipe was so popular at Evergreen that administrators agreed to try it out at the district level. On March 29, for the first time ever, a student-developed recipe will be on the menu at every elementary, middle, and high school in Highline Public Schools.
As part of National Public Schools Week, Rep. Pramila Jayapal (WA-7) commended FEEST in her speech to the U.S. House of Representatives on March 15. She highlighted the group’s recent successful organizing work at Evergreen High School as an example of how students and teachers in her congressional district are building healthy, supportive, and more inclusive schools.
Khatami Chau wants other students to know that their voices matter – that no matter their age, they can have the power to create change.
Food Empowerment Education & Sustainability Team (FEEST) is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to set the table for young people to transform the health and equity of their community by gathering around food & working towards systems change. In addition to the practical skills youth gain through cooking, food is our vehicle for community building, cultural sharing, risk taking, and leadership development. We empower high school youth in Delridge, White Center, and South King County to educate their peers and families about healthy eating, food justice, and racial equity.