Sarah Wu teaches speech at a grammar school in Chicago, and she always brings her lunch. Well, one day she didn't. Instead, she went to the school cafeteria for a student lunch, and what followed was a year of blogging that became a book. It's called Fed Up with Lunch.
Lynne Rossetto Kasper: What happened at that first lunch?
Sarah Wu: I forgot my lunch and went down to the cafeteria. I paid $3 for a bagel dog, a few tater tots and a fruit cup. I just couldn't believe what I saw on my tray. I was pretty disappointed with the food, because a lot of my students rely on the school for their best meal of the day. I had gone through the cafeteria before but I hadn't really been paying attention. So it was a big wakeup call for me.
LRK: So what did you do?
SW: I figured there was very little I could do. I thought I could talk to my manager and to the principal, but I didn't see that going anywhere. I didn't think that registering a complaint downtown would yield very much.
I knew a little bit about blogging, so I thought I could anonymously blog a year of school lunches as a way to make a public record of the meals.
I thought I'd put it out there, and maybe in 3 or 4 months I might get a couple comments. After eating just 2 weeks of school lunches, I started getting a ton of comments. I remember when I got 20 comments; I couldn't believe it. I pretty much freaked out because I was doing this anonymously. I didn't want it to jeopardize my job. It was total elation followed by complete panic. I lived in fear. I just hoped that nobody would put two and two together.
I started getting interview requests in February of 2010. I started telling people, “No, I'm sorry, I'm not available for interviews,” because I was terrified. But I finally decided that if I'm doing this as a passion for children and their health and wellness, I am going to start granting interviews.
That's when people really started taking notice of the blog. So I went out there anonymously, but I decided that it was worth it.
LRK: One of the things that you seem to make a big point of is how much time the children have to eat lunch.
SW: It's pretty appalling. It's 20 minutes for lunch, and that includes lining up. When you work at a school that has between 1,000 and 1,300 elementary school students, you're talking about dividing lunch into five periods. The kids are herded in line like cattle and have to quickly grab all the components of the meal, put them on their tray and rush to sit down.
My colleagues and I were disappointed by so much about the lunch experience. One thing that really bothered us was that, once the students had their food, they only had 9 to 13 minutes of actual eating time. Sometimes even less.