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Mid-City CAN Blog

Officials Praise Food Justice Halal Effort

Students celebrate Food Justice Halal Pilot success
Students celebrate Food Justice Halal Pilot success at Crawford.

Students, parents, and community members gathered at Crawford High School on June 10 to celebrate the success of integrating a Halal option for lunch. After two years of advocating and three months of testing the Halal Chicken Chili Lime Bowl pilot program, the students held their breath for the final verdict, waiting to see if the school district would continue to offer the lunch next year.

“There’s only one way to find out what the students will eat and that’s listening to the students tell you about the food they want to eat. So we hear you,” said Gary Petill, Director of Food and Nutritional Services at San Diego Unified School District. “We’re going to continue to work with you. We’re going to continue the Halal Chicken Drumsticks next year!”

The Mid-City CAN Food Justice Momentum Team spearheaded the effort, lead by parents who were concerned that their children were not eating at school. One main reason was the lack of any Halal option. For many students in City Heights, school lunches may be the only nutrient-rich meal they eat all day, especially those whose families cannot afford to send them to school with a homemade lunch. With food options that some cultures cannot eat, many students go hungry, affecting their ability to focus in class and participate in afterschool activities.

“You can clearly see that your actions have resulted in change and that’s what it’s all about: you getting involved and being the change that you want to see. That’s what’s happened here and we need to grow it,” said Marne Foster, San Diego Unified School Board President.

Halal chicken is just one of many lunch changes the district is making in various areas, which include Taco Tuesdays, California Thursdays, Baja beach and Asian bowl. These changes are meant to cater toward the diverse populations of San Diego, providing healthy and culturally appropriate food that students will actually eat.
“We have vegetarian options and salad bars, but we know that students don’t want to eat vegetarian and salad all the time,” said Petill.

This new lunch offering, which costs only 3 to 4 cents more than non-halal drumsticks, is free-range, antibiotic and hormone free, and oven-baked on site at Crawford.

“We didn’t think anyone was going to eat the lunch and it would be taken away. But then people started eating it, different races and cultures, and everyone liked it better.” said Yasmin Hersi, Freshman at Crawford High.

In fact, the number of students who ate school lunch increased by over one hundred on most days that the Halal bowl was offered. The lunch option became so popular that the school started running out, cutting down the days it was served from twice a week to just once a week.

“Halal chicken is just one small change that has helped more people be able to eat healthier food and be more successful because they are fed well,” said Tim Truong, Freshman at Crawford High School.

Gary Petill also announced that a chicken bowl from the same farm will be offered in every secondary school in the district next year. Although not specifically Halal, the chicken is a huge step toward the ultimate goal of the Mid-City CAN Food Justice Momentum Team: a healthier City Heights. Community members who fought hard for this victory hope that eventually everyone will be able to eat a healthy and balanced lunch at school regardless of culture or background.

“I hope more change happens. This started because of religious reasons, but now everyone can eat the chicken no matter what they believe,” said Truong. “It’s really powerful to see people advocating for others.”

Petill reinforced this idea as he looked out on the crowd of students celebrating the success that was earned through their own hard work.  

“It’s not just a Halal dish… it’s every student’s dish,” said Petill. “This is just the beginning of what we’re going to do together.”

 Marne Foster, SDUSD Board Trustee and Gary Petill, Director of Director of Food and Nutritional Services, celebrate at Crawford High School on June 10 with members of the Mid-City CAN Food Justice Momentum Team
Members of the Mid-City CAN Food Justice Momentum Team celebrate at Crawford High School on June 10 with Marne Foster, SDUSD Board Trustee, and Gary Petill, Director of Director of Food and Nutritional Services. 

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