The lunchroom workers in Chicago Public School’s took to the street outside of the Board of Education headquarters yesterday afternoon with a simple demand: “Let Us Cook.”
Workers called on CPS to overhaul their current practice of serving pre-plated packaged meals to students. They backed up their protest with a new report, “Kitchens Without Cooks,” showing the school board’s intention of building warming kitchens in four of every five elementary schools. CPS even stated, “All new K-8 schools, additions, and renovation projects are planned to be built with warming kitchens.”
“We have food come in, put it on racks, and push it in the oven,” said Patricia Williams, 10-year veteran of school lunchrooms. “We don’t have any utensils, pots and pans. None of that. We warm what they send us in boxes.”
Some of the added ingredients are vitamins and minerals while others compensate for the artificiality of the beef patty. The necessity of such additional ingredients points to the poor quality of the food. Frontline workers in school cafeterias see and know this.
The kids used to eat the food in Sawyer when we cooked,” said Leo Carter, a lunchroom worker for the last 13 years. “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.”
Carter has a child and a couple nieces and nephews in CPS. They tell him that the food does not taste good. He joined the protest as a concerned father and lunchroom worker. The report echoes his desire for better food in the schools.
Workers want CPS to commit to full-size kitchens in all new schools and refrain from having frozen food replace cooked food. The union claims more than 1,000 signatures from concerned parents. Members dispersed around the loop after the protest to collect more signatures and pass out bananas.
“We used to cook,” said Williams. “We had seasoning and we could make it like home cooking. Now we just warm it. Can’t do anything.”
Unite HERE Local 1 represents 3,200 lunchroom workers in CPS who prepare more than 77,000 school breakfasts and 280,000 lunches in over 600 schools each day.
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