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THE WIKILEAKS OF SCHOOL FOOD

Mar

A few short hours after this article appeared in Gotham Schools, the Department of Education shut down the School Food website containing the ingredients of food served in our schools.  Although the website looked completed to us, Deputy Chancellor Kathleen Grimm claimed that the website is a work-in-progress and was not intended for the general public to see yet.  There has been no word from the Office of School Food about when they expect to complete the site and make it available to the public.  James Subudhi, who saved the information as a pdf file, is looking into making the information available online.  In the meantime, we urge parents who believe they have a right to know exactly what their child is eating at school to email Stephen O’Brien, the head of School Food, demanding that they make the site available to the public.  Stephen O’Brien’s email address is SOBrien@schools.nyc.gov.

NYC Green Schools met James Subudhi, the Environmental Policy and Advocacy Coordinator at WE ACT for Environmental Justice in Harlem, at the New York City Council’s hearing on the Department of Education’s (DOE) School Food policies held on February 8th, 2011.  We were shocked to learn from James’ testimony at the hearing that through a simple Google search he had accessed a DOE Office of School Food website not normally available to the public which contains the ingredients of nearly all the DOE food products served in our city’s schools.  You may be wondering, like James and myself, why the DOE hasn’t made this webpage accessible to the general public, particularly to the parents and students who are the consumers of school food.  Because NYC Green Schools believes strongly that parents and students have a right to know the ingredients of the food served in our city’s schools, that this transparency is a must to ensure the food in our schools is safe and nutritious, we invited James to write an article about his discovery and to provide a link to the webpage so that parents could find out for themselves what exactly their children are eating at school.  If your child is allergic to soy, for example, you might be surprised to learn that the “flame broiled beef patty” contains “textured vegetable protein product” which contains caramel color.  We were.

NYC Green Schools is joining WE ACT in calling on the Department of Education to make this webpage available to the general public.  There is no room for secrecy when it comes to the food our children are eating at school.

INFORMATION THE DOE IS NOT SHARING WITH YOU ABOUT SCHOOL FOOD

By James Subudhi

Have you ever wondered what’s in the “wheat” bread of the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches served in New York City public schools, or where the tuna in our schools comes from?  As the Environmental Policy and Advocacy Coordinator at WE ACT, I began looking for answers to these questions while conducting research on the corporate supply chain for the food purchased by the New York City Department of Education (DOE).  I couldn’t find anything online beyond the basic nutritional information provided on the DOE School Food website. Weeks later, however, while trying to figure out the manufacturing locations of the suppliers of the schools’ hamburger meats, I stumbled on a NYC Office of School Food (OSF) website through a simple Google search, which, surprisingly enough, provides the ingredients for all their food products.

I thought at the time, “This is weird. How come I’ve never seen this page before?”  I and no one else in the general public, besides school-food administrators, has seen it because the web page is not available to the public.  If you try to enter the page from the official OSF website, you would be denied access because you don’t have the credentials granting you permission to enter the site.  One can’t help but ask why the DOE is barring parents from the site preventing them from learning the ingredients of the food their children are eating at school.

As it turns out, the web page is a treasure trove of information detailing the ingredients of nearly all the DOE food products (which you can download).  You can even find out information on a product’s sugar content, like the chocolate skim milk, for example, which, on its public website, the OSF claims it does not have the data for.  In some cases, you can even find out the geographic location of the manufacturers that make the products.

So if you want to know if school peaches are canned, what food additives are in the chicken nuggets, and where the tuna is manufactured, here’s what you need to do  1. Click on this link. You’ll see a list of food items that are hyper-linked.  2. Scroll down the table, choose a food item you want to learn more about, and click on it, i.e. canadian bacon.  3. You’ll be brought to a page with the nutritional information for the product, but don’t leave the page yet!  Scroll down the page until you see the link at the bottom titled “Product Label.”  Click on it.  A new tab in your browser will open as a PDF file.  This document is the product label listing the ingredients, sugar content, occasionally the manufacturing origin, and other revealing pieces of information.

Unfortunately, the fight for transparency over school food products is not over.  The DOE could take down the webpage at anytime, which is why I spent my holidays copying all the information into a PDF file.  I also called on The NYC Council’s Education Committee at their school food hearing on February 8th, 2011 to use its power of DOE oversight to get the DOE to make the ingredient information on school food available to the public.  I’m asking NYC residents to join WE ACT in calling on the DOE to make the ingredients of their foods publically available on their website and in all of their school cafeterias so that every parent can know what their child is eating at school to determine if it’s fresh, nutritious, and safe for them.

To learn more about WE ACT’s campaign for good food in our schools and greater transparency, contact James Subudhi at james@weact.org or at 212-961-1000 ext. 311.  To learn more about WE ACT, visit their website.

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