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February 22, 2017

Philly students give brutally honest reviews of school lunches

Generation after generation, students are subjected to the scourge of lunchtime mystery meat, an agony that's as perfect a culprit as any for the alleged tummy aches that send them slumping over to the nurse's office day after day.

Unless mom or dad was packing (or at least buying materials for) the ideal Capri Sun (x2), granola bar, variable fruit and stacked sandwich combo meal, your fate on any given day was a gamble.

Some school lunches could be fantastic — pizza bagels, sloppy joes, french toast sticks — but then you'd sometimes wind up with a piece of unmelted cheese that could stretch a ruler's length, or a chicken patty that was great right up until you chomped into a purple vein.

Leading up to Donald Trump's inauguration, there was a lot of talk about whether the incoming president would "Make School Lunches Great Again," undoing eight years of Michelle Obama's hard work to combat obesity and introduce healthier meals at primary and secondary schools.

The fast food-loving president's first month in office hasn't left much time for school meals, what with all the mainstream media's untruths to set straight, but Republican lawmakers and food industry representatives would like to roll back some of the regulations introduced by Obama, including those that provide food for underprivileged kids.

One western Pennsylvania school took the plunge this week, dropping the Obama menu to the cheers of conservatives and some school kids. 

Under the USDA's universal feeding program, every Philadelphia public school student is eligible to receive a free breakfast and lunch. To get a sense of whether or not the food is actually any good, Philadelphia Public School Notebook staff reporter Darryl Murphy visited two local schools to interview middle school and high school students about their impressions.

These kids didn't sugarcoat it. Here's a sampling of a few of the responses Murphy got from students at AMY Northwest Middle School and Carver High School of Engineering & Science.

• “In the past years the food used to be terrible, [but] now, they’re experimenting with this stuff called salt and pepper," said Jordan Buie, a senior at Carver. "They’re using spices now.”

• “Sometimes the food doesn’t taste real," said Teryn Dark, a seventh grader at AMY Northwest.

• “The cheese is fake. The pepperoni is fake," said Geliz Torres, also a seventh grader at AMY Northwest, when asked about the pizza. "It’s just bad!”

Not everyone was so negative about the school meals, though.

• “I like the corn dogs and the cheeseburgers and the salads because they taste enticing," said Shanaya Samuels, another seventh grader at AMY Northwest.

Monier Elmardi, another senior at Carver, suggested that if the quality of the vegetables could be improved (i.e., not soggy), then people would actually eat them.

According to The Notebook, 107 Philadelphia schools use full-service kitchens, while 141 satellite schools offer pre-packaged foods.

Looking on the bright side, Philadelphia was recognized last year by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation for its progress in reducing childhood obesity.