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by Jessica Weiland, Time for Lunch campaign Intern

One thing we have learned on the Time for Lunch campaign trail is that giving people a sense of their power has an incredible effect—Behold! What things are achieved when you feel like you possess the ability to achieve them! No one has experienced the triumph that comes with empowerment like the Rethinkers, a student-formed, student-organized, student-run, student-everything activist group in New Orleans. I came across this group while researching examples of successful school lunch programs and thought that they were a shining example to reinforce this valuable power lesson we’ve learned and are continuing to explore.

The Rethinkers formed in mid-June 2006, in the wake of the Hurricane Katrina destruction that left New Orleans schools a wreck. They took this rebuilding period as an opportunity to “rethink” some fundamental issues in their school districts. Since their formation, they have tackled Goliath-sized issues — from inadequate, waterlogged libraries to unwarranted security measures to bathroom deficiencies. Now, in the group’s third summer, they are taking on school cafeterias and lunches.

Not surprisingly, these students have a lot on their plate. They started by single-handedly nixing the once omni-present “spork” that was a symbol of the slop-consistency food the cafeteria served for lunch. Now they are working to replace styrofoam trays with real plates and utensils. They have designed a 21st century “green” cafeteria kitchen (with a water conserving dishwasher and an actual kitchen), have interviewed over 500 students at nine different schools to more accurately gauge their needs and concerns, and have developed a video game called “The Ultimate Lunch Tray” so that younger children can have fun with learning how to eat healthy.