What’s so healthy about pizza?

By Quingan Zhou, 15, Monroe HS
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Quing, 15, says students should have a say in deciding what health foods are sold at school.

Hard. Tasteless. Disgusting. What are you thinking of? A stale cookie? A moldy pie? Nah. Actually, those words describe the healthy, yet barely edible, food students are "enjoying" at my school, Monroe High, in North Hills.

And we’re not going to be the only ones. Last month the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education voted unanimously to ban the sale of junk food from vending machines and student stores on its 713 campuses starting July 1. This comes after then-Gov. Gray Davis signed a bill last year banning elementary and junior high schools from selling sodas starting in January.

Ever since I started at Monroe last year, there was a rumor about the administrators taking away soda. Our first reaction was like "whatever." Ice-cold sodas re-energize our bodies after vigorous jumping jacks in P.E. under the burning San Fernando Valley sun. They refresh our minds after an exhausting one-hour math exam in a room without air conditioning. I laughed the rumor off, of course, thinking no one would be cruel enough to ban something so unquestionably great.

Last fall, school officials began distributing free samples of healthy snacks, like GeniSoy Xtreme bars (which are in the same family as tofu, but in my opinion, they’re more related to dust) during lunch. They encouraged us to eat them by promoting them after the Pledge of Allegiance. Consequently, we all gathered around the booth to claim the free healthy snacks.

"Cool! Free food!"

"Soy chips? Haha. How ghetto!"

"Healthy stuff! Yah, baby! … Ewww!!! Never mind."

Being the nerd I am, I curiously checked out the nutrition labels. They weren’t exactly what I would call healthy foods, only 10 percent of the daily value of iron and 2 percent of vitamins A and C. The labels on the bags also guaranteed "delicious."

We made fun of these ""foreign"" foods, but we were pleased at the thought of eating for free. The free food was only temporary so eventually we went back to our sodas and chips. But one day shortly after the school stopped serving the samples, we ran to the vending machine and found out that …

Our Cokes, Doritos, and Nestle’s Crunches were gone!

Instead, we had the new carbonated fruit sodas in a can, called The Switch; chips made out of soy beans (more like Styrofoam) called Soy Crisps, and many other "healthy" but horrible snacks. The whole school fell into complete chaos. Students exchanged frightened looks, girls hugged each other for comfort, guys threatened to trash the school, while a few vegetarians nodded their heads in satisfaction.

The administrators, however, saw the change as helpful in the battle against teen obesity. Greg Vallone, the principal of James Monroe High School, explained that kids are not eating healthy enough these days. The Los Angeles Times recently reported more than 15 percent of Americans between the age of 6 and 19 are considered obese by the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Twenty years ago it was 6 percent. Also, according to the Times article, adults are treating more children with "adult diseases" such as high blood pressure, clogged arteries and type-2 diabetes.

Vallone said the school’s main concern is to get students to eat healthier by providing them with the right kind of food, like Mr. Krispers Rice Chips and Tumaro’s Krispy Crunchy Puffs, and snack bars like Clif Mojo and Natural Value 100% Fruit Snacks.

Students have protested the healthy foods by smuggling bags of candy onto the school grounds and selling them for a considerable profit.

"If [junk foods] are not on the market, a black market will develop," said Julie Rafailova, 15.

The student sellers claimed they conducted such illicit activity purely out of sympathy for fellow students rather than to make money.

Secret candy sales

Patricia Uribe, 15, said people would hide their goodies in backpacks and lockers. Hungry kids would scream in the hallway, "Who is selling candies?" The big candy bars cost $1 each and the lollipops 50 cents. At the end of the day, a seller usually made around $10 profit.

And students were not the only ones engaged in this underground candy market. I once bought a Sour Punch from a teacher for 75 cents, and I literally had to wait in a line of desperate buyers for three minutes. But this teacher, who I am not naming, was not as sly as the students. While we were able to hide our little bags, this teacher wasn’t able to hide the big boxes of goodies and got caught by our administrators.

The students have not been grateful about the change to healthy snacks.

"I think we should make our decisions… to eat junk food or not," said Sophia Martinez, 15.

Vallone dismissed this argument. He said it is the school’s responsibility to look after us, including our daily diet.

While we, as teenagers, do value the healthy foods’ nutritious and low-calorie ingredients, we are more concerned with their creepy textures and sickening flavors.

Dahila Elkinawy, 16, described how low-fat barbecue chips taste like paper and said her friend got mad at her for buying her a can of The Switch, the carbonated fruit beverage.

Samir Qureshi, 17, complained that the soy crisps tasted like cardboard and The Switch should be renamed The Vile.

From icky to ok

Vallone said that the school lost money during the first few months after they banned the junk food because students didn’t buy the healthier snacks. However, once students got used to the new food and some of the worst-tasting items were replaced, the school started earning about the same money as before.

The 45 students in Leadership helped determine which health foods would be stocked in the vending machines. Leadership conducted an event called the "Taste of Monroe." Our student representatives munched down sample snacks, then rated them. The best-tasting snacks were ordered and put in the vending machines.

Thanks to the students in Leadership, Monroe got rid of soy chips and The Switch, replacing them with Baked Doritos and a soy milkshake. Even though they’re better than the stuff we had before, the Mr. Krispers still haunt Monroe students today. Justine de Peralta, a sophomore at Monroe, commented nostalgically that even though the school has added yummier treats like Rice Krispies Treats and Chex Mix, it still does not feel the same without a Snickers.

I think the school should give students the right to choose what will satisfy their hunger. Banning junk food will not solve the problem of obesity among students because we still have access to food outside of school. Instead, this action could be unhealthy for some students.

"Some people don’t even eat at all the whole day because they don’t like those healthy foods," said 15-year-old Mayra Sanchez. "