Buoyed by the positive attention the Parsippany Hills High School lunch strike has received, organizer Brandon Faris is excited.
According to the Par Hills senior, the protest against the new federally mandated school lunch program he organized with junior Nicholas Caccavale appears to have taken on a life of its own.
"Nicky and I decided we weren't going to do [the strike] every day this week," he said."It'll be on again officially this Friday, but people still aren't buying lunch on their own.
"I'm happy, Nicky's happy , we can't believe it actually is going so well," he said, marveling at the attention the school has garnered for students' decision starting last Friday to refuse to purchase anything from the school cafeteria.
"People in power are listening to us and taking the strike seriously," said Faris.
What the people in power—and the rest of us—are hearing is that students are angry.
The new lunch program administered by Pomptonian Food Service under mandate from the federal government has caused controversy at schools across the U.S. Under the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, this school year initiated a new menu that featured lower calories counts, smaller portions of protein and bread and larger fruit and vegetable servings. The law also required a price increase to cover the higher cost of healthier foods.
To the students' minds, what they're getting as a result is less food for more money. And since many of the youngsters are tossing their fruits and vegetables, they aren't even getting the maximum 850 calories the law calls for—so they're anything but hunger-free.
With that in mind, Faris and Caccavale founded a Facebook group and, on Friday, launched their boycott.
Suddenly, the Par Hills strike and other high school protests like it, became big news across the country, and in Parsippany, Faris and Caccavale became media darlings, appearing on CBS News, Fox News and News 12, among other outlets.
"The media bit has its ups and downs, said Faris. "It's cool being on TV, but we were just worried about getting the lunch program changed. That was our goal."
Since the school district is forced by the government to comply with the lunch program or else receive hefty fines, the new menus will stay in place for the time being. But Superintendent of Schools LeRoy Seitz praised the students' "respectful" protest and he said he planned to talk about options with Pomptonian and state and federal officials.
Additionally, there is word that some members of Congress in Washington are looking for ways to amend the lunch law.
In the meantime, the strike goes on.
Faris insists that the action is voluntary.
Some students worried that if they opted to buy lunch, they would be teased or harrased by their school mates. Faris said that while it is true that there were students who purchased their lunches surreptitiously and hid in the nurse's office to eat, their concern is baseless.
"If you choose to buy lunch, people respect that," he said. "Some people did buy lunches [during the strike]. Everyone was totally fine with it."
But he makes clear that if people choose to boycott the cafeteria, that's their decision.
"It's not official," he said. "We don't plan to strike again officially until Friday. And we may possibly make it something we do every Friday until we get the menu changed.
"It's not 100 percent definite yet, but it could happen."