Sarah Wu ’99: Exposing School Lunches
A hotdog encased in soggy bagel dough with a side of Tater Tots and a skimpy fruit cup might not seem like much to write home about, but when Sarah Burns Wu ’99 did just that, she embarked on an influential blogging and publishing career.
Wu is a speech pathologist for the Chicago Public Schools. One day in 2009, she forgot her lunch and ventured into a wasteland of school-cafeteria cuisine. “It was the bagel dog that pushed me over the edge,” Wu remembers. “To think that’s what the kids were eating that day!”
Wu made a New Year’s resolution to do something about what she’d seen. “I had my little blog that my mom and sister read. I decided to blog about school lunches. I bought the lunch every day, took a picture, and every night I would upload it,” she says. “I told my husband it would take only five minutes a day, but blogging takes over your whole life. I set it up so my blog posts go on Twitter, and that launched it.
“I didn’t realize what a huge topic this is when I started,” Wu continues. “What we eat touches so many aspects of our lives. This is an environmental issue, too. My school serves one thousand breakfasts and lunches a day. The numbers are staggering.”
Fedupwithlunch.com started receiving significant traffic immediately. After a month, Wu had already received one thousand hits. Now she receives that many each day and has seven thousand subscribers. About halfway through her year of school lunches, Wu was approached by two literary agents from different firms who told her they could see a successful book growing out of her blog.
Working with one of them, she wrote Fed Up with Lunch: How One Anonymous Teacher Revealed the Truth about School Lunches — And How We Can Change Them! (Chronicle Books). The work includes a resource guide for parents, teachers, kids, and even chefs and nutritionists who would like to help change the food environment at schools so that health and wellness are a focus.
Wu posted her blog under the pseudonym Mrs. Q because she was worried that she might be fired for criticizing her school’s lunch program so publicly. But when her book was published, she revealed her identity on Good Morning America. Instead of firing her, the Chicago Public Schools’ nutrition-program staff invited her to discuss the lunch program with them.
“The book is selling well,” says Wu. “It appeals to a lot of parents who are concerned about what their kids are eating, and to people who think about the politics of food.”
Wu is still working for the school system and continues to blog. “Now I share what I’m feeding my son for lunch,” she says. “I’m getting tired of sharing lunch photos. I would really prefer not to, but my readers get upset. They say, ‘Come on, we’re still interested.’
Published in the Spring 2012 issue