South Charlotte

Carmel Middle School vegetarian seeks heartier options in CMS cafeterias

Elly Kirk, a Carmel Middle School eighth-grader, hopes more beans and entrées including veggie burgers and baked potatoes can become available in her school’s cafeteria on a regular basis.
Elly Kirk, a Carmel Middle School eighth-grader, hopes more beans and entrées including veggie burgers and baked potatoes can become available in her school’s cafeteria on a regular basis. COURTESY OF JERRY KIRK

Carmel Middle School eighth-grader Elly Kirk is concerned about her vegetarian friends.

While Elly, also a vegetarian, brings her lunch to school each day, she said her friends who purchase meals in the cafeteria don’t have a lot of choice if they want to eat meat-free.

“I don’t buy my lunch, but my friends that don’t eat meat and do buy the cafeteria food come back with barely anything to eat at all,” she said. “Not even the salads are meat-free.”

To change that, Elly has created an online petition at CARE2 Petitions that has more than 28,000 signatures in support of her cause. Now people worldwide are encouraging Carmel Middle School to offer more vegetarian options.

Angela Calamia, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Child Nutrition Services director of operations, said vegetarian entrées and side dishes are offered every day at each school, but it is a balancing act trying to offer foods students will eat.

“Yogurt and string cheese, as well as hummus and flatbread, are vegetarian options available every day,” Calamia said. “Some days we also serve grilled cheese, cheese pizza, cheese sticks, vegetable lasagna, queso with tortilla chips and cheese ravioli. We’ve always had vegetarian salads, but few people bought them, so we ended up throwing many of them away.”

Calamia said there also are several different vegetable sides served each day. Since CMS is federally funded, the schools must choose menus in line with USDA guidelines, meaning a meal must contain less than 30 percent fat, less than 10 percent saturated fat and, for middle-schoolers, between 600 and 650 calories.

Elly said she appreciated those guidelines, but that many times the vegetarian offerings seemed more like snacks than full meals. She would like to see more beans and entrées such as veggie burgers and baked potatoes available on a regular basis.

Calamia said her department was still firming up menus for the coming year and that there was always room for improvement. She said she would be glad to pull together a focus group at Carmel to explain the parameters she must work under, and to get ideas from students about what they would like to see on the menu.

Elly said she plans to contact Calamia this week to set up a meeting. She said she also hoped to take her cause further by meeting with the school board and getting its support to encourage school cafeterias district-wide to offer healthier choices.

Carmel Principal Marc Angerer said Elly’s petition showed that the school was empowering students to be caring, productive citizens.

“I am proud we have created an atmosphere at Carmel that allows students to be confident enough to find their voice,” Angerer said. “Not only has Elly taken initiative to take a stance for herself, but she has shown compassion for fellow classmates by advocating for them as well.”

Melinda Johnston is a freelance writer: m.johnston@carolina.rr.com.

Learn more:

Find Elly Kirk’s petition at www.thepetitionte.com/987/051/407.

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