Screaming Avocado Café at Northwestern Secondary School in Stratford, Ontario offers students low-priced, fresh food every single day of the school week. The raw ingredients come from local farms and markets or from the school’s own on-site vegetable garden.
But the availability of inexpensive and healthy food doesn’t mean the Screaming Avocado - or just Avocado as the kids call it - is without competition. The school’s cafeteria attracts the same number of students - about 200 - looking to buy lunch.
The cafeteria is down the hall and to the left from the Avocado. Anyone having trouble finding it need only follow the excited chatter spilling out into the hallway. The cafeteria is a long sunlit rectangle filled with bench seats in rows spanning the length of the room. On one end is the small servery where students carry in empty trays and come out with burgers, fries, and heat-and-serve sandwiches. The food is relatively cheap and available all day, everyday.
Between 300 and 450 students come through the cafeteria for lunch daily. It’s a mix of kids who buy at the servery, bring food from home, or buy food at the Avocado and bring it back to eat with friends. The meals are comparable in price at both places but since the Avocado offers fresh and nutritious fare, why do so many kids still opt to spend their money on processed food?
Short answer: taste.
Noah Hunter is in grade 8. He buys his lunch a couple times a week and while the pizza at the Screaming Avocado is ok, he prefers the burgers from the cafeteria. They are slightly cheaper than the Avocado’s but, more importantly, Noah thinks they taste better. “…we’d rather eat here because there’s more delicious food like burgers and stuff and we like to eat burgers,” he says. His friends who are gathered round nod in agreement.
One table over, a group of girls – 11th graders – say the same thing: healthy food just doesn’t taste as good as the less-nutritious stuff and if you’re just going by taste then the cafeteria wins every time.
But the girls also point out that gender plays a role in who eats where. They say the boys tend to eat in the cafeteria because they’re not as worried about what they eat. A young woman named Brooke says, “the girls feel pressure to be thinner so they watch what they eat. The boys just come in with their five dollars cash and buy whatever.”
Back at the Screaming Avocado, Paul Finkelstein points out it’s not always easy to get young people to change their minds about what to eat. He says there are some kids in the school who’ve never stepped into the Avocado and have no plans to do so. He says it’s hard to convince some kids to try something new. But that’s exactly what he’s trying to do one lunch at a time.
Written by Earth Beat's Toronto correspondent Naheed Mustafa