It took effort to get the nutrition info for my school’s food

By Ashley Hansack, 17, King Drew Medical Magnet HS
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Ashley’s favorite thing to eat at lunch is the vegetable frittata because it’s the healthiest.

When I became a vegetarian, eating lunch at school was the hardest part. I’d eat pancakes or cereal at nutrition, but by fourth period I would be starving. I’d look at the clock waiting for lunch even though I didn’t know if there would be something for me to eat that day.

I would get in line and when I saw hot wings, chicken tenders, hamburgers and salads with ham I would search for more options. Sometimes there would be something without meat, like mac and cheese or a bean and cheese burrito. But most of the time, I didn’t have anything to eat. I didn’t take my own lunch because I come home late and I didn’t want to wake up earlier just to make food. And my mom tells us to eat at school so she can save money.

I didn’t want to bother the lunch workers because they seemed busy. I had a lunch ticket so I’d get a hamburger and sometimes a banana or carrots and give the hamburger away to my friends. It was tempting watching my friends eat. But remembering why I became a vegetarian stopped me.

When I read the book Fast Food Nation a couple years ago I was shocked and grossed out. I read about huge factory farms where cows are confined to areas where they stand in their own feces. Cows and pigs are given hormones to fatten them up so companies can get the most meat out of them. I worried that those hormones are harmful and were going into my body.

I also read how the workers are treated badly. They are exposed to chemicals and work long hours. The meat companies seem to care more about their profits than consumers. I didn’t want to support these companies anymore so I decided to become a vegetarian.

A year earlier I had tried becoming a vegetarian. But two days later my mom made chicken and I ate it so I failed. This time I was determined to stick to it.

Junk food was our only option

My vegetarian friends and I would complain that there was no food for us. We’d go to the student store and buy 25-cent cookies or buy something from kids selling donuts, chips, candy and chocolate from their backpacks. By the end of school I’d be hungry again but I couldn’t go home to eat because I had extracurriculars.

After a few months, I was tired of being hungry. At lunch I’d ask, “Do you have something without meat?” Most of the time the cafeteria workers would say, “No, sorry” because there were more kids coming into the cafeteria and they didn’t want to stop the line to help me. I just let it go. But once in a while someone would go to the back to look. They’d come out with a bean and cheese burrito or a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in a wrapper. I like the PB&Js so I’d be happy.

Photo by Jasper Nahid, 16, New Roads School (Santa Monica)

At the beginning of the school year, the food improved. My school got money from the school district to renovate the cafeteria. It was called CAFÉ L.A. There were more options and more entrees without meat. I was relieved when I saw veggie burgers, vegetarian chili, vegetable frittatas and more fruit. The frittata looked strange because I had never eaten one before but it tastes delicious. It has tomatoes, bell peppers, egg, spinach and onions. I feel like I eat a lot healthier now. I don’t get hungry until right before lunch so I can concentrate in class. Now I’m excited to go to lunch. It’s fun. I talk and laugh with my friends, instead of walking around campus thinking, “oh I’m hungry.”


I still had some complications. Once I got to lunch late and there was nothing vegetarian. I told them I was a vegetarian and they told me I needed a doctor’s note. What? Why? I didn’t know if I did or not so I left. When I told my older sister she said it was wrong for them to deny me a lunch.

My school is required to have vegetarian meals

I spoke to the cafeteria manager, Ms. Ticey, because I wanted to know what my rights were as a vegetarian. She said menus are created by our school district (Los Angeles Unified) but the cafeteria manager at each school determines how much they need. Sometimes students who are not vegetarians grab the meatless item, which leaves the vegetarians without an option. But the school is required to have a supplemental meal so the vegetarian students can eat. She said they always have a backup, like the PB&Js. If you have a special diet, you need to get a doctor’s note so they can accommodate you. Since being a vegetarian is a choice, there isn’t a need for a doctor’s note.

Vegetarian teens need to be more persistent about getting something to eat. If you don’t speak up they won’t put out more vegetarian options since there isn’t a demand for it. I wish I had been more vocal from the beginning.

Other stories by this writer …

All the places we go. From Hollywood to Long Beach, 16-year-old Ashley likes exploring the city on the train. (January-February 2010)