March 4, 2011
I met James Subudhi, the environmental policy and advocacy coordinator at WE ACT for Environmental Justice in Harlem, last month at the City Council hearing on the Department of Education’s school food policies. I was shocked to learn during James’ testimony that through a simple Google search he had accessed a portion of the Office of SchoolFood’s website not normally available to the public — a directory that contains the ingredients of nearly all the food products served in city schools.
You may be wondering, as James and I did, why the DOE didn’t made this webpage accessible to the general public from SchoolFood’s main site, 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 about his discovery.
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. I couldn’t find anything online beyond the basic nutritional information provided on the DOE’s SchoolFood website. Weeks later, however, while trying to figure out the manufacturing locations of the suppliers of the schools’ hamburger meats, I stumbled on a portion of the SchoolFood site through a simple Google search that, 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?” But the page is not meant to be available to the public. If you try to enter it from the SchoolFood site, you would be prompted for a password and official credentials. 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 site 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 that of chocolate skim milk, for example. On its public website, SchoolFood claims it does not have the data about the chocolate milk’s sugar content. 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
- Click here. You’ll see a list of food items that are hyper-linked.
- Scroll down the table, choose a food item you want to learn more about, and click on it, i.e. canadian bacon.
- You’ll be brought to a page with the nutritional information for the product, but don’t leave the page yet! Scroll down until you see the link at the bottom titled “Product Label.” Click on it. Next you’ll see a PDF. 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 city could take down the site or password-protect it at anytime, which is why I spent my holidays copying all the information into a PDF file. I also called on the City Council’s Education Committee at its school food hearing to use its oversight power 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 publicly 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.
NYC Green Schools is joining WE ACT in calling on the Department of Education to make this information available to the general public. There is no room for secrecy when it comes to the food our children are eating at school. To learn more about WE ACT’s campaign for good food in our schools and greater transparency, contact James.