Brockton students host community dinner to fight for food justice – Enterprise News

BROCKTON – Margarida Burrell’s eighth-grade son has been lactose intolerant his whole life. Since he started kindergarten, they’ve had to ask his school to provide a dairy-free option for his lunch.

“I don’t think it was enforced,” said Burrell. “When he was smaller it was more difficult.”

When he was younger, Burrell’s son would come home from school feeling ill after eating school food that contained dairy. Once he reached age 10, she and her husband started talking to him about what he can and cannot eat.

Now as an eight grader at the Davis School, her son knows how to navigate the cafeteria to find food that he can stomach.  But Burrell isn’t the only parent who’s struggled to get high quality, healthy food for their kids to eat in school.

A group of Brockton middle and high school students is advocating for more nutrient-rich lunches in Brockton cafeterias, where they said the food is bland, not always nutritious and doesn’t reflect the cultures of the student body.

“Our food is just as important as any other aspect of our culture and just as important to have in our schools,” said Brisa Oliveira Sousa, an eight-grade BPS student and member of Brockton’s Youth SOL, a community organization that teaches youth about social justice and community organizing.

Youth SOL hosted a community dinner on June 6 at the Stacy Adam Cultural Center to raise awareness for food justice in Brockton. Local restaurants like Luanda’s and M&M Seafood donated food for the event. Salad bowls were filled with greens from Stonehill College garden and parents brought homecooked food.

Families sat together at large, round tables eating food sourced from the local community and discussed how BPS can change its lunch menu.

“School lunch is something families really rely on in this city,” said Michaela Lauture, director of youth organizing at the Brockton Interfaith Community, which sponsors the Youth SOL program.

What is a food desert?

According to the Youth SOL students, half of the city is designated as a food desert, where there is little access to affordable, fresh and nutritious food. Any area that’s more than a 1-mile walk from a grocery store is considered a food desert.

“That is hugely concerning,” Lauture said.

More: Brockton superintendent: Strict rules make it ‘so hard to prepare food that’s good’

Meanwhile, only 2.5% of Brockton residents have food stamps, compared to 12.3% of residents across the state who use food stamps.

“When I think about how much money I spend on fruit and vegetables for my family of six, it feels so out of control,” Lauture said. “And I’m not buying all locally grown, all organic, just heading to the grocery store trying to find deals.”

Fight for better school food

Since last spring, Lauture, Sousa and the rest of Youth SOL have been advocating for a wider variety of cuisines in school lunches. Students typically eat pizza, chicken patties and other American-style food that is low enough in sodium to meet government regulations for school lunches.

According to data from the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), over 80% of BPS students identify as people of color, and many kids come from immigrant families.

Brockton school lunches: Brockton students want culturally relevant food, not ‘cardboard with cheese’

Youth SOL held a rally in March 2023 to discuss the issue with school district leaders. Lauture said Brockton Superintendent Mike Thomas, who left the district on leave in August 2023 after the announcement of BPS’s budget deficit, first suggested community dinners as a possible solution.

“Superintendent Thomas was making good commitments to make changes around quality of food,” Lauture said.

“Sometimes the guidelines are so strict they forget kids want to eat good food,” Thomas said at the March rally. “We have gone so far the other side where you want things to be healthy, but it’s made it so hard to prepare food that’s good.”

The first community dinner was held in May 2023. A second event was planned for the fall semester but was postponed once Thomas left the district. Lauture said Youth SOL members have requested meetings with Acting Superintendent James Cobbs to continue the discussion, but the meeting never came. Youth SOL decided to move forward with last week’s community dinner, but hopes to work with BPS to keep conversations going.


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