From scanners in the Lower Dining Hall to a new running track, change has been everywhere this school year. The cafeteria wasn’t unaffected—over the summer, the district and Sodexo, WW-P’s food managing company, worked toward improving lunch options. In previous years, students had new options of Boar’s Head sandwiches and soup; the school now provides biodegradable instead of Styrofoam lunch trays and supplies halal meat for students on certain days of the week.
At the end of last year, Sodexo began to use new vendors to provide halal meat in the cafeteria for Muslim students. For Anthony Kowalak, the Sodexo Operations Manager for WW-P, the changes regarding halal meat balance the need to be considerate of students’ dietary restrictions and to keep the lunchroom efficient. “It’s more about identifying the products. We are not in it to make a full halal dish. We are using halal products in the dish so not every ingredient is necessarily halal, but the main ingredients such as the chicken beef [are],” said Kowalak.
These changes came about when Sodexo received parent and student feedback on the cafeteria food. “We have looked at our population and seen that they have been asking more for these items. So we have been pushing our vendors for these products and we have finally come through with some product that we can get access to,” said Kowalak.
While Sodexo has made new additions to the menu, they have also been considering the environmental impact of their products. Sodexo’s website lists six key factors they focus on when offering their surfaces: helping the environment is a primary goal. However, the change only came about with the combined efforts of both Sodexo and students themselves from North.
HSN’s Environmental Club vice president, senior Georgia Castoro, pitched the idea during a Board of Education meeting at the end of the last school year. “Styrofoam is not good for the environment; it’s not biodegradable at all. The amount of kids who eat lunch in school and the amount of trays we’re dumping into the environment is ridiculous, so the biodegradable lunch trays just made sense,” said Castoro. The new recyclable trays can help limit the district’s carbon footprint.
However, the change wasn’t an easy, simple swap to make. Syrofoam trays are less expensive than biodegradable trays. The struggle to balance environmental conservation with financial benefits is a problem that often plagues businesses. Because of the switched to biodegradable trays, the company had to change the price of lunches at middle schools. “We increased prices, not at the high schools, but at the middle schools, which is where we go through a lot more trays,” said Kowalak.
Castoro finds that the new trays do much more than protect the environment. “I think that [the recyclable trays] bring into people a new awareness about the environment that wasn’t really there before in the school. Hopefully, that transitions over into recycling,” said Castoro.
Castoro wishes to bring about more changes to help the school become more environmentally aware. For her, the trays are just a start to the rest of her mission to help the earth.
“There’s a point to this,” said Castoro. “It’s to look at our future rather than our current presence on earth. We have to improve things for our future generations.”
With lunch holding such an integral part in our high school lives, it is important that the cafeteria reflects both the students’ interests and needs. With these environmentally-friendly and culturally-inclusive changes this year, students look forward to seeing what else the lunchroom will do to ensure to spread a message of inclusion and awareness.