5 Questions about School Lunches with Mrs. Q
School cafeterias across the nation help create the nutritional standards for our next generation. Teacher Sarah Wu, a.k.a. "Mrs. Q" recognized the need to change the menu, as she sat with her students in the lunchroom. In response, she pursued the Fed Up with School Lunch Project to help raise awareness about the food being served through the National School Lunch Program.
What was the tipping point that initiated your Fed Up with School Lunch Project?
Back in 2009, I had a one-year-old and he was transitioning to solid food. I was questioning my family's food choices and that's when I forgot my lunch and I was forced to buy something in the cafeteria. It was a moment where I couldn't believe what my students were eating and at the same time I was working so hard to provide my son with the best possible food. I had to really question what was the difference between my own child and the students at my school.
Did you notice an effect from eating school lunches, one that you could relate to the students who might feel sluggish after eating?
I never thought about a connection between how I ate and how I felt because I thought that I ate well. What I learned was that the school lunches didn't fill me up. There was a lot of sugar and kiddos were sometimes catatonic after lunch. Also the weird dyes have been proven by some studies to cause hyperactivity. I saw that as well.
What did you learn from the students and their eating habits as you joined them in the lunchroom?
I learned that my low-income students were not able to make their own choices and had to simply take their lunch and go. I wished that those students in particular could feel more empowerment about their food choices at school.
What, if any, kind of changes have occurred in your school's lunch program since you wrote the book and revealed your identity?
I did leave my position as a speech path in Chicago Public Schools but before I left I saw 100 salad bars move into schools, even the one I worked at. Overall choices improved because of my raising awareness campaign.
Did you see yourself as a food activist when you finished the project?
That's a great question! Even though I left my job at Chicago Public Schools, I have had to back off of being vocal because I have needed to protect my current position at a school. However, my son's school has a great school lunch program and a healthy school food policy. Additionally, the school where I work has a salad bar and a grant that exposes students to fresh food and veggies as classroom snacks. I haven't had to do a lot of advocacy.
Compelled by her own frustration with school meals — both as a mother and a teacher — one teacher known anonymously as “Mrs. Q” committed to eating school lunch every school day in 2010 just like her students. Mrs. Q documented her experience and described the meals by blogging, tweeting and sharing photos on her blog Fed Up With Lunch: The School Lunch Project.
In October 2011, Sarah Wu revealed herself and published a book entitled, Fed Up with Lunch: The School Lunch Project: How One Anonymous Teacher Revealed the Truth About School Lunches –And How We Can Change Them! Mrs. Q continues to use her blog as a gathering place for people concerned about children’s food and health with her blog’s audience of parents, nutritionists, doctors, chefs, and “foodies.” She is married and the mother of two boys.