Zachary Maxwell may only be 11 years old, but he has an award-winning short film that will be screened at the Manhattan Film Festival this year.
It’s called “Yuck! — A 4th Grader’s Short Documentary About School Lunch,” and it exposes the dark side of the NYC Department of Education’s lunch program.
In the Fall of 2011, then-fourth grader Zachary asked his parents if he could start packing and bringing his own lunch to school. His parents insisted he keep eating the school’s hot lunch, which was not only free, but sounded delicious on the NYC Department of Education’s menu on its website.
With options like chicken nuggets with glazed carrots and beef ravioli with zucchini, Zachary’s parents weren’t sure he could provide himself the same well-balanced meals.
So to convince his parents things were not as they seemed, Zachary snuck a small HD camera into the lunchroom in his sweatshirt and eventually gathered six months worth of “inside” footage of what his lunches really looked like.
The result is “Yuck!” a 20-minute film narrated, written, and directed by Zachary and edited by CJ Maxwell, Zachary’s dad.
The film may sound cute and innocent, but what Zachary uncovered in the cafeteria of PS 130 in Little Italy was actually quite shocking. According to a review in The New York Times, which calls Zachary the “Michael Moore of the grade-school lunch room”:
Among the 75 lunches that Zachary recorded – chosen randomly, he swears – he found the menus to be “substantially” accurate, with two or more of the advertised menu items served, only 51 per cent of the time. The menus were “totally” accurate, with all of the advertised items served, only 16 per cent of the time. And by Zachary’s count, 28 per cent of the lunches he recorded were built around either pizza or cheese sticks.
A spokeswoman for the NYC Department of Education told The Times that school lunches are healthy, and that perhaps Zachary wasn’t choosing the vegetable option each time. Zachary denies the claim.
But the documentary has made one substantial change — Zachary now brings his own lunch to school.
To prove to his parents that the school lunches at his NYC elementary school weren't as healthy as they sounded on the Department of Education's lunch calendar, he snuck a camera school every day to document his lunch.
PB&J or cheese sandwiches were available daily, wrapped in cellophane. Veggies weren't quite as handy.
And after some hard work and editing by his dad CJ, Zachary's film is now headed to the Manhattan Film Festival.
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