What would allow our kids to be served the healthiest, tastiest school meals possible? Given the robust activity around the country to provide locally-sourced, taste-tested meals prepared in-house, you may imagine kind lunch ladies whipping up delicious daily offerings. Or, considering the number of eager, willing, world-renowned chefs in the DC area, you might think the city would want to capitalize on the opportunity to be a leader in school feeding.
DC Public Schools’ Office of Food and Nutrition Services continues to insist that food service companies are the best option. To this end, they have been evaluating bids from companies since December to determine which of those companies will receive the contracts to provide the District’s school meals in the upcoming year.
Because of a stipulation in DC city law around the bidding process, the public is not allowed to know which companies have submitted bids.
What we do know, however, is that big food service companies are some of the only entities that have the organizational capacity to bid in this very complicated system. One of these big food service companies is Chartwells-Thompson – the Compass Group subsidiary that just settled a $19.4 million whistleblower lawsuit that alleged fraud and mismanagement. (Chartwells-Thompson was recently involved in a bribery scandal in Chicago as well.) Another company that has expressed interest is called Sodexo. Unfortunately, this company has a history of fraud and racial discrimination as well.
This does not bode well.
Students in DC Public Schools depend on breakfasts, lunches, after school snacks, supper, and fresh fruit and vegetables to counter the effects of a rough economy and widening urban income inequality. While some parents are able to send their kids to school with homemade lunches, most are not.
As parents, we have to speak up. In our city, where three-fourths of public school students qualify for free and reduced-priced lunches, we have a special responsibility to make sure that each and every child receives the nutritious, delicious meals that will propel them to academic success. We can do this. It’s in our power.
That means we have to hold the school system accountable. We have to tell them that huge multinational companies that engage in fraud, bribery, and discrimination have no place at our table.
Thankfully, there are other options out there, including local companies that prioritize relationships with anti-hunger organizations like Share Our Strength and the United States Healthful Food Council. With the right team at the helm, DC Public School food can be something we’re proud of. But it’s up to us to communicate these priorities.