Journalism Award Winners Announced

Today, Earth Day Network is proud to announce the winners of the first-annual Healthy and Sustainable School Food Journalism Awards

In October 2012, Earth Day Network – in partnership with the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, The Edible Schoolyard Project and the Epstein-Roth Foundation – kicked off the competition in honor of National School Lunch Week, asking U.S. high school students to submit articles about the importance of healthy and sustainable food in their schools.

We received dozens of submissions from all over the country – everything from the correlation between healthy diets and improved academic performance, to the ecological damage caused by large agribusinesses, to the need for a good balance between nutrition, portion, and taste.

Best-selling author and food activist Michael Pollan selected the winners from among an anonymous pool of finalists chosen by a panel of judges at UC Berkeley.

The six winners will receive cash prizes: $1,500 for first prize, $1,000 for second prize, $500 for third prize, and $300 dollars for each of our three fourth prize winners. In addition, all of the six winners will receive $200 for their journalism classes.

And the winners are…

1ST PLACE: RACHEL ARMSTRONG, Apopka High School – Apopka, FL

Congratulations to first prize winner Rachel Armstrong, of Apopka High School in Apopka, Florida! Rachel’s article for The Insight, Apopka High’s newspaper, highlighted the various obstacles that stand between schools and healthy school lunches, including cost and the inability of schools to provide locally-grown produce. Rachel welcomes the new USDA standards for school food, and suggests that every school should be equipped with a dietary specialist. Her reporting included interviews with fellow students, school administrators, and politicians such as Florida Representative Bryan Nelson and U.S. Senator Bill Nelson.

I feel very strongly about the traditional values of journalism and its goal to inform its audience.  When it comes to the importance of healthy, environmentally sustainable food, I believe reporting is a perfect tool to inform the public of the necessity of healthier options.  If schools continue to provide a diet of overly processed food, those who rely on school meals for nourishment will have a much lower quality of life in the long-run." – Rachel Armstrong

2nd PLACE: MARIEL KLEIN, Jesuit High School – Portland, OR

The second prize winner was Mariel Klein, a 12th grader from Jesuit High School in Portland, Oregon. In her article for The Jesuit Crusader, Jesuit High’s newspaper, Mariel explores the problem of kids continuing to choose unhealthy options even when healthier ones are available. She also suggests that inadequate kitchen facilities contribute to the inability of schools to provide fresh meals. And she examines a school whose cafeteria was built to serve 400 students – but is now serving over 1,200. Her reporting included interviews with fellow students and cafeteria staff as well as research about the contractors that provide the school’s food.

In exploring the issue of healthy, environmentally sustainable school food, I brought to light several roadblocks at Jesuit including the outdated, inadequate kitchen facility which limits the ability of our cooks to prepare fresh meals. My hope is that by drawing attention to this fixable problem, it becomes a topic of discussion for our school and therefore a priority for some of our fundraising dollars. We've even contacted the chairs of our annual auction to suggest donations be earmarked for a new kitchen.” Mariel Klein

3rd PLACE: ADITI BUSGEETH, Alief Taylor High School – Houston, TX

Aditi Busgeeth, of Alief Taylor High School in Houston, Texas, was awarded third prize. In her article for The Den, Taylor High’s newspaper, Aditi explored the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which went into effect across the country in 2012. She also discussed childhood obesity, the link between healthy food and academic performance, and the environmental degradation that results from corporate farming. Her solution? To provide more locally-grown produce, encourage positive views of healthy food, and regulate food waste.

“I entered the contest because I believed it was a great opportunity to raise awareness about the need to revise nutritional guidelines to create appealing and environmentally-friendly school meals. Sustainability is truly within reach, and school lunches are a progressive first step toward a healthier and environmentally aware generation of Americans.” – Aditi Busgeeth

4TH PLACE: CECILIA SEITER, Oakland Technical High School – Oakland, CA

Cecilia Seiter, a 12th grader from Oakland Technical High School in Oakland, California, was one of three fourth prize winners. Her article for The Scribe, Oakland Tech’s newspaper, focuses on the lack of fruits and vegetables available to students. She goes on to cite the correlation between poor nutrition and health problems, behavioral issues, poor academic performance, and a lack of focus. Her reporting featured interviews with teachers and fellow students about their experiences with the school lunch program.

“I participated in the competition because I believe that access to healthy food is vital to a person's well-being.  I wanted to be able to voice my opinions - and the facts - about the quality of the food in our cafeterias and the healthy alternatives that are available.  I hope that all schools give their students the opportunity to eat healthy lunches and promote the welfare of the environment and of themselves.”

4TH PLACE: SOPHIE HOLLIS, RJ Reynolds High School – Winston-Salem, NC

Sophie Hollis, also a fourth prize winner, comes from RJ Reynolds High School in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. In her article for Pine Whispers, Reynolds High’s newspaper, she discusses the importance of serving local and sustainable foods, both for their nutritional value and the benefit of the local economy. Her reporting included interviews with local farmers, cafeteria staff, and fellow students.

“I wrote the article primarily to investigate how much of an effort my school was making to serve healthy meals to students. I am aware that there is a population of students that attend R.J. Reynolds High School who don't get to eat meals other than the ones served to them at school. It's important that the meals they do get are sufficiently nutritious. Furthermore, it is important that students who buy lunch are served healthy choices so that they form healthier habits as early as possible. Being a part of the first generation with a shorter life expectancy than our parents, I think it's very important that we learn how to eat right, and the school system has a significant role in promoting that.”

4TH PLACE: RAND MICHAELS, Traverse City West Sr High School – Traverse City, MI

An 11th grader from Traverse City West Senior High School in Traverse City, Maryland, Rand Michaels was also awarded fourth prize. Rand’s article for The Occidentalist, WSH’s newspaper, featured research on the people and policies that shape school lunch programs as well as analysis of some of the avenues for providing healthier, more environmentally sustainable meals. He also wrote about the inadequacies of current USDA regulations and called on schools to provide more local and sustainable foods and to better educate students about the importance of nutrition.

“I participated in the Healthy Sustainable School Food Journalism Contest because I want to help spread the word that offering healthy, sustainably grown food in our nations school systems can inspire our generation to make permanent healthy lifestyle choices that will not only lower the incidence of chronic disease and obesity, but also lessen the impact of our agricultural system on the environment."

All of the participants should be applauded for engaging their fellow students in a critical debate about the importance of healthy, local, and sustainable food in public schools. It’s essential that young people be informed about these issues and that they have the opportunity to voice their opinions.

Our sincerest thanks to all who participated, and congratulations to the winners!


To read all of the winning submissions, click here.