Schooltime hunger. That aching feeling in your stomach that discourages you from wanting to do anything until you refuel your energy.
Then, having to find the limit of a mathematical sequence, figure out the molarity of a complex substance in chemistry class, remember the major conflicts of the 18thto- early-19th century, and ruminate on why this book doesn’t actually have anything to do with the killing of a mockingbird – all while the distracting and sometimes painful vacancy in your stomach urges you to eat something.
Many Boston public high school students go through this every day, complaining that school meals are unappetizing -- even if they’re now free for all students.
For starters, though advocates say there is a link between good nutrition and good academics, many teens who rely on Boston Public Schools food to power them through the day say morning is such a scramble that they don’t have enough time to gulp down cafeteria breakfasts. Meanwhile, with 78 percent of students having been eligible for free or reduced-price meals due to income, according to BPS, teens say they are not able to grab a good breakfast at home given tight family budgets, not to mention constant T delays.
Oliver Prudent, 15, a junior at the John D. O’Bryant School of Math & Science, talked about the feeling of being in class without a breakfast in his system.
“My stomach would hurt, and I would put my head down,” he said.
In class, Simone McLaren, 17, would sometimes find herself daydreaming about a decent meal.
“By third period,” said McLaren, who attends the O’Bryant, “I was only thinking about food and how I wanted to get out of there.”
Student criticisms about school food -- which has to be mass-produced on time and on budget -- have been around as long as there has been cafeteria pizza that tastes like cardboard.
Over the years, BPS says it has upgraded school meals by adding more fruits and vegetables and tastier and healthier entrees; being in the vanguard of school districts purging ammoniated “pink slime” from their ground-beef inventories; better synchronizing food production and delivery so that dishes stay hot and flavorful; and generally putting a more sophisticated touch to its overall food preparation.
The school system also has pushed back against past allegations that it was storing foods past their expiration dates, insisting that students were not endangered.
“All of the meals we offer meet the nutrition requirements set by the [US Department of Agriculture] Food & Nutrition Service to support children’s healthy growth and development,” BPS says on its website.
Still, students at the O’Bryant, for example, described lunchtime chicken that was dry as a bone and beef stew that looked like it was one solid clump of grossness.
Teens from other schools have voiced similar gripes, including those from Community Academy of Science and Health, Madison Park, and Boston Latin Academy.
“I don’t really eat my school’s lunch,” said Hector Fajardo, 16, from the O’Bryant, who dines on a granola bar instead.
Some teens said that, never mind the recent focus on obesity, counting extracurricular activities they could go more than 18 hours between meals. School food is apparently so unappealing that some teens said they would risk the wrath of teachers by sneaking snacks into class.
For them, school has become a never-ending battle between starvation and detention.