By Katlyn Valdez
Boyle Heights Beat
It surprised many students when Theodore Roosevelt High School in Boyle Heights became one of seven Los Angeles Unified School District high schools chosen to try a vegan meal pilot program this fall. While initially slated to run only through November, the program has been extended through the school year and could become permanent.
The program was initiated in early September at Banning, Crenshaw, Fairfax, Huntington Park, Roosevelt, North Hollywood and Sylmar high schools.
Ivy Marx, LAUSD’s senior nutrition specialist for food services, says the district picked Roosevelt after students there expressed an interest. Some Roosevelt students also participated in the food testing.
The district chose a school in each of the seven local board districts, based on high cafeteria participation rates.
The vegan meals, which are both dairy- and meat-free, also offer expanded choices to students who are vegetarian. They include vegetarian chili with tortilla chips; teriyaki veggie patty sandwich; bean tamal; veggie burger; and an Italian sausage sub sandwich.
Meal options alternate daily. The vegetarian chili tops the list of favorites at all schools, and officials say the other meals’ popularity also seems pretty consistent in all schools. Marx says the students also seem to like the bean tamal, which is one of the vegetarian meals offered as an entree on “Meatless Mondays.”
“My favorite is the bean tamal, and the sub, too,” says 17-year-old Jennifer López, who has been vegan for about a year and is a senior at Roosevelt High School. “It’s good for people who are meat eaters because they can’t taste the difference.”
LAUSD officials say they want to make sure that the meal options are appealing for all students. “When we have a new item that we are considering for the menu, we take it out to the schools for the students to taste, so we get students’ feedback before we even put it in the menu,” says Marx.
During the trial, registered dietitians survey students for feedback that can that help them make adjustments and expand vegan menu offerings to other schools, says Marx.
Some students are pleased, but others could live without the vegan option. Leonardo Ayala, 17, sees it as a last resort. “I’m not a big fan, but when I’m hungry, I’ll eat it,” he says.
Marx says that because of the positive feedback the pilot program could become permanent. “Our whole goal is to satisfy as many students as we can because we want more students to come eat with us,” he says. “It’s all about providing options. If students have more options, they are most likely to find something that they will enjoy.”
Roosevelt’s cafeteria manager, Kidada Tarrant, says she fully supports the program and that it’s been quite popular at the school.
“We do have a big fan base,” Tarrant says, adding that she is happy the kids are satisfied. “We get to feed the kids what they like.”
Tarrant says Roosevelt started off serving at least 200 vegan meals a day, but that the number fluctuates. Non-vegan eaters sometimes try the meals, especially when they see the tortilla chips, she says.
According to LAUSD, Roosevelt High School has a high number of students eating lunches from the cafeteria, with an average 43.5 percent participation rate.
All photos taken from LAUSD Power Point presentation about vegan menu at some of its high schools.
Students speak out:
- “The vegan chili, it’s really good. For the most part, they’re good, but there’s a ew meals that I could do without.”
–Jalen Santiago, 17
- “I feel like not a lot of people are gonna get it. They’ll only get it as a last resort.”
–Ernesto Hernández, 17
- “I’m not a big fan, but when I’m hungry I’ll eat it. They’re not as bad as I thought they were.”
–Leonardo Ayala, 17
- “ I would like to try more vegan food, because I feel like if I liked the patty, then I’d be open to trying other food that I may like just as much as the patty.”
–Carlos González, 17
- “There are people who don’t know what’s good for their bodies, and this gives them an opportunity to explore new foods. I would like it to be permanent because it gives people more options.”
– Jennifer López, 17
Katlyn Valdez is a senior at the Math, Science and Technology Magnet Academy at Roosevelt High School. She enjoys photography, reading, writing, and wandering the streets of downtown LA. She aspires to attend a four-year university and major in film and minor in Chicana/o studies.