provided by Colleen Wallace
As part of the shift from a hybrid to a completely in-person schedule, lunch is that one period that everyone looks forward to. It’s a break from classes, you can catch up with your friends, and most importantly, you can eat. While some students bring their lunches from home, most students eat the lunches the school provides.
However, there are some students who cannot get school lunches because of dietary needs and preferences. Many students at WA are vegetarian, including myself. However, there are limited lunch options for vegetarians and vegans at WA.
On April 26, 2021, WA started an in-person plan for school days, complete with a long block with four lunch periods. All of the lunches served are cold lunches, not at all akin to the usual hot pasta or oven-warm pizza provided during normal years.
This new cold-lunch requirement has posed a challenge for some students, including myself. Because of the pandemic, hot meals cannot be served. There just aren’t enough vegetarian options, and even worse, there is no required number of vegetarian options WA needs to serve to students.
According to Colleen Wallace, the Director of Food Services for WPS, WA currently has four vegetarian options: garden salad, caesar salad, caesar salad wrap, and pizza. However, two of these aren’t even vegetarian. Caesar dressing in the caesar salad contains fish, which certainly isn’t something vegetarians can eat. How WPS can call something with fish in it “vegetarian” baffles me—the website the school used so students could order lunch even showed the caesar dressing as unsafe for people with fish allergies.
This brings WPS’s actual count of vegetarian options to two, one of which is fatty and unhealthy and the second of which is not filling at all for a growing teenager.
Additionally, it disgusts me that people seem to automatically equate the word, “vegetarian”, with, “salad”. The school certainly has done this, with “three” of its “four” “vegetarian” options being salad-related. Vegetarians aren’t rabbits.
Wallace says that WPS is required to have the five main meal components required by the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture): grain, protein, fruit, vegetable, and dairy.
The protein component of school lunches is covered in non-vegetarian meals with the meat that is available; but for vegetarian meals, salad is the only original thing they could come up with?
There are many options for vegetarian food, just as there are for non-vegetarian food—anything that has meat can simply be replaced with a nutritious veggie option, such as a black bean burger instead of a beef burger, or chickpeas instead of chicken in salad.
However, the school has ignored this option. WPS provides many sandwiches that contain meat, such as BLTs or chicken subs, which students actually want to eat. However, WA neglects to provide an actual vegetarian sandwich.
“Our goal is to feed everybody. So if we had something on the menu that […] was something that only 10% of the students would be interested in, then we’re leaving 90% of the students out of it,” Wallace said.
If something is made appetizing in a way that students would buy it, then it’s a win-win situation, and if our goal is to feed everyone, leaving vegetarians and vegans out of it is not a good way to do so. I’ve heard so many people aiming to be “inclusive” to all people and accept them. I think that these same people are ignoring another group: people who choose not to eat meat or animal products.
Some ways WPS could change this is providing protein options without meat. Chickpeas, lentils, and cheese are all good sources of protein. An example that is vegetarian is a vegetable sandwich which contains cheese, or a veggie wrap with chickpeas. Instead of plain salads, lunches could have the same lettuce inside veggie burgers.
With the diverse town Westford is, I expect better. While providing lunch for more than a thousand people each day is hard, I think WPS should do a better job to include everyone by providing better lunches in order to give students a better high school experience.