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Mrs. Q on Becoming an Accidental Activist

Blogging anonymously as “Mrs. Q,” a teacher and mom of a toddler from Illinois, Sarah Wu pledged to eat school lunch every school day in 2010, just like her students. Using her cell phone camera to covertly snap pictures of the meals, she blogged and tweeted about the good, the bad, and the downright inedible. This morning, she revealed her true identity to the world as her book, Fed Up With Lunch: How One Anonymous Teacher Revealed the Truth About School Lunches, hit store shelves.

We asked Wu to share the story behind just how she got started on this project and her Fed Up with Lunch blog, some of her all-time best and worst school lunches, and advice for parents interested in improving school food for their own kids. This is the first in a series of three posts about a project that began as a crazy whim and is now helping to raise awareness about school lunches across the nation.

Life has a way of surprising you. School lunch was not on my radar during the first few years I worked as a speech-language pathologist for Chicago Public Schools. Even though I passed the cafeteria every day, I didn't even peek in to see what was happening. I was just focused on my work with students with speech impairments.

For me, becoming a parent changed my view of children. And when my son was making that scary transition at one year of age when he started getting all of his nutritional needs met through real food, I really started thinking about food in a way I never had before. The food I had in my house had to be the best.

During that same period, getting myself, my son and my husband ready for work and childcare in the morning was stressful and crazy. One day I just wasn't able to find time to pack a lunch, and I ended up running out of time to pack myself something. I figured it was no big deal—there was a cafeteria at work, and I'd just buy school lunch like the kids.

When I entered the cafeteria and saw that the kids were getting bagel dogs and tater tots, I was shocked. I had no choice but to buy the lunch because I had no other food available. While eating the food, I just couldn't believe it. I mean, I liked the occasional hot dog, but this was beyond my imagination.

I worried about my students, many of whom were living in poverty, and I wondered if the school lunch was their best meal of the day. I was devastated on their behalf. But what could I do? I couldn't talk to my boss about it or the principal--what could they do?

A few months went by and I still passed the cafeteria because I was friendly with the lunch ladies. I couldn't get those lunches out of my mind. So when I was developing my 2010 goals in December 2009 (I like to sit down and think about what I'd like to do with the next year), I decided I wanted to start a blog and thought about those lunches. And then it came to me: I could blog my way through a year of school lunches and eat them just like my students. My idea was to create a public record of the lunches served at my school and do it anonymously so I wouldn't get in trouble with the administration.

Ultimately, I believe that anyone who has the conviction about something important to her and the persistence to follow through with an idea can create the kind of change that really impacts people’s lives in unimaginable ways. And somehow, I’ve found myself doing just that. 

Check out Fed Up With Lunch: How One Anonymous Teacher Revealed the Truth About School Lunches and check back here tomorrow for some of the highs and lows of Mrs. Q’s year of school lunches.