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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.

Go deeper

Howard University student protest continues

The protest extended beyond Blackburn Center as some students pitched tents outside. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

The Blackburn Takeover at Howard University has gone on for over three weeks as students continue to protest unsafe living conditions and advocate for representation on the board of trustees. 

The big picture: University officials and student protesters are in a deadlock as administrators promise to sit down with students occupying Blackburn Center once they leave, but the students say they won’t go until their demands are met.

Driving the news: Student protestors have gotten support from notable Howard alumni and others.

  • Rev. Jesse Jackson was on campus this week to meet with students and university officials.
  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D) tweeted in support of protestors on Tuesday.
  • Rappers under artist Gucci Mane’s label have also shown support.

What’s happening: Since the protest began, the university has released multiple statements supporting the right to peaceful protest, but condemning the occupation of Blackburn Center, which also serves as a cafeteria. 

University president Wayne A. I. Frederick on Tuesday released a statement saying in part that Sodexo, the company that runs the cafeteria inside Blackburn, has had to layoff some employees as the result of being closed for so long.

  • His statement also mentioned COVID concerns, as some students are moving back and forth from Blackburn Center to their residence halls. 

Zoom in: Mold, leaks, and vermin are all issues in residence halls, according to students.

University officials have reported improvements in student housing and say the majority of students are "living comfortably."

  • But, students say unsafe living conditions are still an issue, and are calling for the historic HBCU to end its contracts with Corvias, the company that manages campus housing.
  • There have also been recent reports of safety issues in the university's chemistry building. The university addressed some of those concerns on Twitter.

Meanwhile, The Hilltop, HU’s student newspaper, also released a statement on Tuesday saying that it’s consulting with the Student Press Law Center following concerns about what The Hilltop calls efforts by the university to censor their reporting. 

In response, Frank Tramble, Howard's vice president and chief communications officer, sent Axios a statement saying in part, "To challenge student reporters to be accurate is not a call to silence their voice but elevate their practices to be respected in the industry."

Tramble went on to cite a few incidents involving Blackburn coverage where a student journalist recorded after being asked not to, and published off-the-record comments, among other issues.

The bottom line: The Blackburn Takeover has already far exceeded the 9-day Howard student protest in 2018, which ended with a deal between students and the university. This time there’s no clear end in sight. 

Updated 12 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Health: Omicron fuels the case for COVID boosters — Omicron variant lifts Moderna's stock price — CDC strengthens COVID booster recommendation.
  2. Politics: Biden says fight against Omicron won't include "shutdowns or lockdowns."
  3. States: Federal court blocks Biden's vaccine mandate for health workers in 10 states — NYC urges masks indoors "at all times" regardless of vaccination status — New York declares state of emergency amid concerns over Omicron.
  4. World: Omicron adds urgency to vaccinating worldWHO warns against travel bans on southern African countries — First North American Omicron cases identified in Canada.
  5. Variant tracker: Where different strains are spreading.
Kendall Baker, author of Sports
Updated 21 mins ago - Sports

College football gone mad

Former Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly walks in front of his players. Photo: David Madison/Getty Images

In the span of two days, the head coaches of two of the biggest college football programs in America have jumped ship, wooed by even greater challenges — and the almighty dollar.

Driving the news: Lincoln Riley is ditching Oklahoma for USC in a deal reportedly worth $110 million. LSU poached Brian Kelly from Notre Dame with a reported 10-year, $100 million contract.

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