Today, Chicago Public Schools lunchroom workers, who are members of UNITE HERE Local 1, are releasing a report that highlights the growing amount of frozen and prepackaged food being served in Chicago’s schools. The report, entitled “Kitchens Without Cooks: A future of frozen food for Chicago’s schoolchildren?,” cites frontline lunchroom workers, parents, and students and reveals CPS intention to expand this frozen and pre-plated food model to Chicago’s new and renovated schools. The release of the report is being held in conjunction with an action today outside CPS Headquarters.
While most schools have skilled and experienced cooks working in fully equipped kitchens, a growing number of schools have “warming kitchens” where frozen pre-plated packaged meals are manufactured outside the school and simply reheated at meal times. The report finds that in over 36% of all CPS elementary schools, and 81% of the new elementary schools constructed under the $1 billion Modern Schools Across Chicago (MSAC) initiative, CPS has decided that reheated frozen food will be served. This number is set to grow with CPS stating, “All new K-8 schools, additions and renovation projects are planned to be built with warming kitchens.”
The report calls on CPS to reconsider this frozen food model. The workers offer a different vision and want to use their talents to cook fresh food for the Children of Chicago. One of these lunchroom workers, Leo Carter, has worked for CPS for the last 13 years and noticed changes since his school, Sawyer elementary, switched from cooking to frozen food. “The kids used to eat the food in Sawyer when we cooked,” he says.” “Now that we use the frozen food I see a lot of food going in the garbage. Cooking may be more work for me but I’d do it for the kids.” A survey released in January of 436 lunchroom workers found that 73% of those surveyed said food at cooking schools was superior to frozen food schools
Lunchroom workers stand ready to work with CPS in implementing the changes that need to be made to repair a system in crisis. Their recommendations, outlined in the report, include a commitment from CPS to build full-size kitchens in all new schools and avoid replacing cooked food with frozen food in existing schools. Over 1,000 parents have already signed a petition in support of the recommendations outlined in the report.
There are 3,200 frontline lunchroom workers who prepare over 77,000 school breakfasts and 280,000 school lunches each day for the children of Chicago in over 600 schools.