When fourth grader Zachary Maxwell started nagging his parents to let him bring his own lunch to school, they knew something was up. Zachary was served lunch every day in his New York City public school and because it was a hot lunch, his parents were insistent he take advantage of it.
And really, what was the kid complaining about anyway? According to the NYC Department of Education website, which gave a daily rundown of the lunch menu, the meals sounded nutritious and hearty. Tri-color salads? Marinated tomatoes? Those didn’t sound like reasons to complain.
But Zachary, adamant that the flowery website descriptions didn’t at all match his grim lunchtime reality, decided to prove to his parents that he was telling the truth.
He explained to The New York Times, “I told them that’s not what they were actually serving me,” he said. “But I don’t think they believed me.”
The fourth grader smuggled an HD camera into school every day and secretly documented his cafeteria lunches. Later, he would compare that day’s meal with the advertised version on the Department of Education website.
As you can see from the clip above, they often didn’t match up. Salads that were supposed to be filled with colorful vegetable goodies were in actuality small scoops of aging lettuce, and despite a lot of PR about health initiatives, many meals were still built around pizza and mozzarella sticks.
Eventually, Zachary was caught filming by the school’s staff, despite a crew of his friends who were supposed to be his lookouts. He was ordered to delete the footage, but only pretended to comply.
A year later, that footage became the auteur’s short film, which he titled Yuck: A Fourth Grader’s Documentary About School Lunch. It’s so far appeared in a slew of short-film festivals and caught a good portion of national press attention.
Zachary’s rebel tendencies are reflective of another child who turned her disgust for school meals into an international campaign. Scotland’s Martha Payne is only 10 years old, but her internationally popular blog, NeverSeconds, highlights the inedibility of her own school lunches.
Like Zachary, she was also caught and banned from photographing her meals once school officials became weary of the bad press, but eventually they reversed their decision. Since then, Martha has used her fame to solicit donations to feed hungry children in Malawi.
As for Zachary, his notoriety seems to have just begun. As a result of his film, the Department of Education spokesperson Marge Feinberg told MSN that starting in fall of 2013, schools will be required to strictly adhere to the advertised menu. No doubt if they don’t, Zachary will be the first to tell us.
What do you think of your kids’ school lunches? A reason to revolt, or perfectly sound nutrition? Let us know in the Comments.
Related stories on TakePart
A Bay Area native, Andri Antoniades previously worked as a fashion industry journalist and medical writer. In addition to reporting the weekend news on TakePart, she volunteers as a webeditor for locally-based nonprofits and works as a freelance feature writer for TimeOutLA.com. @andritweets | TakePart.com