Updated Oct 28, 2021 - Food and Drink

Mystery of the disappearing lentils at CPS

Two sandwiches.

Two "vegetarian" sandwiches served on Plant Forward Thursday last week in Chicago Public Schools. Photos: Monica Eng and Alex Burstein for Axios

👋 Monica here. Earlier this month I praised Chicago Public Schools for launching weekly "Plant Forward Thursdays," a day when the district supposedly drops meat from its menus and serves things like "lentil Joe sandwiches."

Why it matters: In a district that serves more than 250,000 meals a day, this could eliminate the environmental effects of several tons of meat a week — and save money.

On the plate: CPS officials gave me the OK to visit on a Thursday to try a lentil Joe and interview students, designating a high school on the northwest side where a principal had agreed to meet.

  • But when I arrived at the school hungry for a lentil Joe, CPS officials told me I couldn't go in, saying "the principal hasn't yet agreed on a time."
  • Frustrated and annoyed, I got on social media and urged CPS parents to ask their kids to try the sandwich and report back.

What they're saying: Most parents told me their kids asked for the lentil Joe but it wasn't in the lunchroom that day.

  • One student asked for the "vegetarian lunch" and got a meat-like patty bathed in sloppy Joe sauce.
  • Another student was served a grilled cheese sandwich.
  • One was served hot dogs.

Just one correspondent found a lentil Joe sandwich in his lunchroom and reported back.

  • "The appearance was less than appealing and the texture was weird," Alex Burstein of Lane Tech College Prep tells Axios. "But overall I would say it was on par with school lunch food."

The other side: "[We take] our vegetarian meal options for District students very seriously," CPS officials told Axios when presented with student reports. "Based on the information provided, these specific meal options may have been utilized by the dining team in place of the lentils to provide a meatless option."

Lingering questions: How many schools actually served the lentil Joe?

  • Why did so many schools serve meat on Plant Forward Thursday?
  • And why did CPS bar me from entering a school at the last minute?

📬 Question for CPS parents: Have your kids tried the Thursday vegetarian options this year? If not, please ask them to try the shepherd's pie today and tell us how it tastes.

Go Deeper: You can hear student Alex Burstein give his full review of the sandwich on Axios Today.

Editor's note: We corrected the spelling of the last name for Lane Tech College Prep student Alex Burstein.


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