Better Food, Better Mood

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Emma Mitchem, Writer

If you have been a student in the Raleigh County public school system for the past couple of years, you may be familiar with the infamous food page that has rated school breakfasts and lunches based on their quality. This presents the argument that the quality of the food in our public schools has definitely declined, especially since COVID-19.

When the pandemic first started in 2020, the county did institute a system to provide families with food while students were not in school. This food distribution occurred during the “two day” blended learning schedule. Back in school during the pandemic, school lunches were served in a TV dinner type of packaging and distributed to students in plastic bags, like one could find in a grocery store. Lunches were full of cold, soggy, and “flat-out gross” food.

However, whenever students and parents complained about the food served at school, they were met with people saying variations of “So what? It’s free.” In fact, food is one of the most expensive programs in most public school systems, constituting up to 46% of budgets, according to schoolfoodfocus.org. In underprivileged counties, school food becomes more of a priority given the fact that for many kids, it might be the only access to food.

Mrs. Antonette Mazella-Gwinn, a teacher at Beckley-Stratton Middle School, has been an advocate for the children in our county by going to the Board of Education and asking them to examine the food served in our schools. “If the community and Board members, including the Superintendent, would come and eat lunch at our schools, they would be appalled!” Mazella-Gwinn commented. Another concern of hers as a teacher are the portions served. As children grow, they may need to eat more food, yet across the county, regardless of age, the amount is the same, meaning that middle and high school children are receiving similar portions to elementary school children.

Another concern is the quality of food in our county compared to food in other counties, like Greenbrier County for example. “I am sure we get the same funding from the state, what are they doing with that money? If Greenbrier County can serve food that looks good, why can’t we?” Mazella-Gwinn commented further. Recently, Facebook posts trended in favor of Greenbrier County Schools food which appeared to be appetizing and more like regular food or what would be served in restaurants.

If you are on social media, you should be familiar with the many pages for our school like the sleeping page, slouching page, or even parking page. Another page that may catch your attention is the school lunch page. The page exposes the stomach-turning lunches that most students have grown accustomed to, from lunches with almost inedible components like soggy, barely cooked, crinkle-cut fries to some lunches being served with a random breadstick to try and make up for the mediocre quality of the food.

There was a moment when students could choose between the “TV dinner” lunches and pizza. Pizza was individually wrapped, frozen and microwaved, and, while it was better for a while, it has since become monotonous.

“It used to be way better, I remember there being pretty good stuff sometimes,” said 11th grader Savannah Vance on school lunches, “a lot of kids spend the entire lunch waiting in line to avoid eating another Tony’s Galaxy Pizza.” There have been students who would not eat at all due to the lack of variety. Many students have described it as a “eat the same thing every day or eating something nasty that was obviously just thrown together and heated up.” Many students pack their own lunches to avoid having to eat school lunch.

Our students deserve better and more fulfilling meals while in school, since for many kids in our county, it may be the only food they will get. After the activity witnessed on the “anonymous” food page, we moved back to tray lunches, but what does it say about our county if we supply less fortunate kids with food that they would rather throw away than eat?

Photo Credit: @wwhs.food on Instagram
Food from Greenbrier County Schools for comparison