The spring semester greeted students with a new year, new classes and a new lunch menu. The district switched meal providers this semester, opting for a fresh start with Revolution Foods. The change upset Lowell’s former meal provider Preferred Meal Systems, who went to court with an unsuccessful lawsuit against the district, claiming that Revolution Foods did not have the means to supply San Francisco Unified School District schools with enough meals.
Preferred Meal Systems is based in Berkeley, Illinois and in 2003 had signed a nine-year contract with the district to provide food for its schools. Once the district’s contract with Preferred Meal Systems expired in October 2012, the district put a new $9 million contract up for bidding.
Revolution Foods placed a bid $370,000 lower than Preferred Meal Systems. A company’s bid states how much it will charge the hiring organization to do a job, in this case the cost of the labor and food produced, hence, a lower bid means Revolution Foods would cost the district less money. To secure the contract, Revolution Foods also had to meet certain requirements and pass district evaluations, including a taste test. As a part of the new contract, the district required that food designated for students be prepared no more than twenty-four hours in advance, according to assistant director of Student Nutrition Services Zetta Reicker.
In December, the contract with Revolution Foods was finalized by the San Francisco Board of Education, and they have joined Bi-Rite, the school’s beanery provider since 2011, to provide the school’s breakfast and lunch.
After losing out on a renewed contract, Preferred Meal Systems filed a lawsuit against the SFUSD. The provider claimed Revolution Foods did not have the resources to supply the SFUSD meal needs. In January, a San Francisco judge ruled in favor of Revolution Foods and declared the Board of Education had a right to approve the contract.
Transitioning to Revolution Foods was a hefty task because of changing the services over winter break instead of over the summer. District officials had only the two weeks before school started on Jan. 7 to usher in a change that might typically take a couple months, according to Reicker. “I'm really proud of how well it has gone,” Reicker said. “Overall the response from the community and the students, who are most important, has been overwhelmingly positive.”
A Revolutionary Concept
Revolution Foods, founded in 2005, has their headquarters in Oakland, California, and strives to bring nutritious food to schools across the United States. Meals are prepared in Oakland and are sent to SFUSD schools through a distribution center in San Bruno, according to Tobey. The produce for the school lunches is shipped directly to the distribution center.
Revolution Foods serves its purpose by promoting nutritional values that encourage smarter, healthier eating habits, according to its website. “We want to change the way America eats overall by introducing better ways of eating,” Revolution Foods cofounder and Chief Impact Officer Kirsten Tobey said. “We want people to realize healthy eating is not a chore.”
Every bite is promised to have natural ingredients without high fructose corn syrup or artificial trans-fat, and they use milk and meats that are hormone and antibiotic free.
The food, which can vary from spaghetti and meatballs to chicken and waffles, comes in a black tray and has “freshly made” proudly stamped on the front. “It’s a good improvement,” Lowell cooking manager Dole Reclosado said. “It’s more presentable and appealing.”
The Revolution Foods meals appeal to a wide array of students. “As a vegetarian, there are many more options to choose from,” sophomore Sumedha Kumar said. “Before, there was mac and cheese, and grilled cheese sandwiches, there were just a lot of cheese involved. But now there is more protein.”
The number of served meals has boosted since the change of lunch program. According to Reclosado, last semester 650 lunch meals on average were served each day. That number has jumped to about 730 on average each day. The new menu has attracted new customers, and changed the opinions of many Lowell students. “For us, the most exciting thing is hearing that students who never wanted to eat school lunch are now eating it,” Tobey said.
Serve It Up!
Students may have noticed a few more innovations in the cafeteria. Food comes in a variety of serving methods — the staple brown trays have been replaced with white trays with three sections for food. However, if the cafeteria runs low on white trays, students are given brown trays or the Cardinal-style red-and-white nachos trays, which are borrowed from the main vendor’s beanery neighbor, Bi-Rite Company. Besides the trays there are bags as the Lowell beanery is not the only place that tries to reduce the paper used in food trays; both Washington and Galileo high schools use classic brown bags for grab-and-go breakfast.
Students who desire to voice their opinions on the school lunch offerings can step into action by filling in a feedback form at a district website.
The school’s food services are well-used, with almost a third of the student population paying a visit to the lunch line daily. “It definitely tastes healthier,” senior John Pham said. “The portion size is larger.”
Photoillustration by Monica Castro
Illustration by Kimberly Li