Whitsons: 'Wildly Inaccurate Accusations' Fly About East Haven School Lunches, Labor Talks

Whitsons Culinary Group responds to criticism about its food service program and contract talks with school cafeteria workers. The district avoided a strike Monday after the workers' union voted 15-12 not to walk off the job.

[Editor's Note: The following is an open letter to the East Haven community submitted by Whitsons Culinary Group. Additionally, word has come tonight via a that the cafeteria workers' union vote to consider a strike has failed by 15-12 count. East Haven Patch will have additional reporting on the new contract as more information becomes available.]

To the Editor:

We would like to respond to the wildly inaccurate accusations that have been flying back and forth as a result of in the East Haven Patch.

First, regarding the allegations of poor food quality, these statements are untrue, and quite frankly, ridiculous. Whitsons continues to lead the industry with our high quality, nutritious meals and award-winning nutrition awareness programs that have been benefiting the students of East Haven for eight years.

We continue to stay ahead of the curve with innovative programs that not only meet the stringent guidelines of the new , but in many instances go above and beyond the Act’s requirements.

We offer lean proteins, whole grains, low fat cheeses, all natural condiments and fresh fruits and vegetables, all meeting or exceeding the HHFKA’s guidelines for protein, carbohydrates, dairy, fruit and vegetable portions, PLUS we already meet the 2014-15 standards for sodium content in our meals.

Beyond the HHFKA’s requirements, we purchase an average of 52% of our products locally, we prepare meals from scratch, using wholesome ingredients and we source products that do not contain high fructose corn syrup, artificial colors and flavors whenever possible. We continue to lead industry efforts on these initiatives and are directly responsible for applying strong pressure to many nationwide suppliers to remove these additives from products such as breads, ketchup and dressings, for the benefit of school children nationwide!

In accordance with the requirements of the HHFKA, protein and carb portions in our meals have indeed decreased, while vegetable and fruit components have increased.  This was put into place to ensure that our children are eating a healthy, balanced meal with proper portions by age group.

Second, regarding union contract negotiations, Whitsons began contract negotiations with the union in March. We have met 5 times with the union and have come to an agreement on all but several items, which we are making a good faith effort to reach an agreement on. We have a long history of positive relations with various unions throughout the Northeast, and we are hopeful that we can soon reach an agreement that will be mutually satisfactory for all parties.

We applaud the hard work and dedication of the foodservice workers at East Haven. You should feel proud of the service you provide, and the high quality of the meals you serve to the students. Our goal is the same as your goal, to provide only the best food and state of the art nutrition education to the students of East Haven.

We will continue to work diligently to reach an agreement with the union, so that we can all concentrate on the most important business at hand, the business of serving nutritious, great tasting meals to your children.

Holly Von Seggern
Vice President of Marketing & Brand Management
for Whitsons Culinary Group

Christopher Bonagiuso August 28, 2012 at 04:38 AM
When did heaping amounts of french fries become highly nutritious? How does one consider a meal of Pasta, french fries, and bread a carb reduction? There are hamburgs that sit for two lunches and are completely dried out. There are times when the meal that actually is "nutritious" is purchased by enough students that it runs out before the last lunch. If you don't have first lunch you don't get served the same foods as previous lunches. Yes, there is a well represented selection of all food groups....but let's be honest, if you put french fries in front of kids, they don't reach for the salad. A Crafty little trick Ms. Seggern. When I was in school you used to get meatloaf, potatoes, and corn with a roll on the side....those days are long over. Someone tell me what is in the chicken patties they serve our children....certainly does not look like chicken. If it comes frozen, from a can, or box you can't continue to tell parents of East Haven you are providing the best foods for our children. I invite Ms. Seggern to consume only the food Whitson's offers JMMS students for three meals a day, eating only the specials, except when they run out, then she has to eat either the chicken patty or hamburg (to be fair let's say she must do that 4 of the 15 meals a day.) Oh and extra french fries on her plate. All meals come with fries! Tell you what Ms. Seggern, skip that idea and watch the movie Supersize Me. A concerned educator, parent, and formerly long time resident.
Rosie August 28, 2012 at 11:11 AM
Who is she trying to kid. I have seen these meals. They come in plastic bags, frozen. So, exactly who is doing the cooking?? The food comes frozen or in cans. Yes, they offer fresh fruit and carrot or celery sticks. But there is also canned fruits and vegetables, puddings, I would say these contain high fructose corn syrup. And, as Mr. Bonagiuso said, fries come with every meal for the upper grades. When you have pre cooked meals, and you heat them up repeatedly, what happens?? It dries out. It is common sense, and should be obvious to a food service company. When I was in school, meals were actually prepared and cooked by the kitchen staff, right there. No canned crap, or premade meatballs. They were cooked, not heated. Tell me, Ms. Seggern, what exactly is in those meatballs you serve?? You may think we are dumb, but we certainly are not stupid. Try again....
Kathie August 28, 2012 at 11:50 AM
"We have met 5 times with the union and have come to an agreement on all but several items, which we are making a good faith effort to reach an agreement on. We have a long history of positive relations with various unions throughout the Northeast, and we are hopeful that we can soon reach an agreement that will be mutually satisfactory for all parties." - if these words from Whitsons were true, especially the last sentence, then we would still be bargaining and not have been told "last and final" a few hours after sitting down to bargain!
Matt Lyons August 28, 2012 at 01:00 PM
Gee, McDonalds claims the same things in their advertising. I say we run them out on a rail along with the minnions that voted for it! Lets pack up all their crap in a pile at each school and have them come get it. Ifit wasn't clear enough before, East Haven Taxpayers say "Get Lost!"
Patrick Madley August 28, 2012 at 01:07 PM
What a joke... I don't even know what else to say
Flowers August 28, 2012 at 01:12 PM
Whitson's meals are a delight to both the eye and palate. The all you can eat fries feature is often the highlight of of our busy students day. Well fed students, questing for knowledge in a beautiful new high school, It's wonderful and it's right here in East Haven.
Becki Pastor August 28, 2012 at 01:21 PM
Of the school lunches are sooooo terrible and nutritiously unsound.....why are there sooooo many East Haven students buying them? If all these parents really cared what their children ate they'd send then to school with a lunch in hand. It's disingenuous to complain about these meals constantly and yet metro buying them. And it seems to me the parents that complain most about portion size seem to have children who could benefit from portion control and this is coming from someone who is battling to lose weight but my children don't because I've tried to instill in then a healthy attitude about food. And they sometimes very school lunch and sometimes bring their own. I prove then with healthy choices at home to bring to school.and let them choose and oddly enough both of then choose to avoid the burgers etc and choose the healthy meals our bring stiff from home. Do stop complaining and make changes at home and stop buying what you ain't want you kids to eat. It really is that simple. And do NOT tell me your work and don't have time. These are your children...make the time and quit complaining...it's getting old.
Matt Lyons August 28, 2012 at 01:38 PM
Did a quick search on Holly Von Seggern. Seems she spends most of her workday defending this company on various websites and blogs that question the nutrition standards of their product. Kinda reminds me of those tabacco CEOs back in the eighties defending cigarettes and how they a "misunderstood" . I really find it hard to believe with East Haven's large Italian community that this company continues to operate here. I always thought the Italians believed in fresh, good tasting, healthy foods and they usually steer away from processed products. Pastas are fine when served with a nice salad and fresh fruit cup for dessert. Its when they give the kids the options of fries, soda and bagged chips or ice cream that it takes a turn for the worse. Most kids these days would always take the junk food over the healthy food. But then again thats why this country has such a weigh problem to deal with. It should start at home, but it doesn't anymore. We have become our own worst nightmare.
Michelle Petroccio August 28, 2012 at 02:02 PM
Mr. Bonagiuoso, I so agree with you! Last year, I actually got to the point where i had to call the lunch room, and demand that salads be set aside for my kids because by the time they were next in line, the nutritious food was gone, and they were left with the fries and 'psuedo' chicken patties! The burgers are like hockey pucks, no flavor and warmed over because the schools cannot provide freshly cooked foods for the students. When I was in school, we had delicious, nutritious meals to choose from as well, and you could smell the food being prepared throughout the building from early in the morning. We had real cooked foods, not pre-made heated meals. At least at the high school level, the syudents and the faculty have meals prepared by the Culinary Program available to them for choice!
Becki Pastor August 28, 2012 at 02:43 PM
Matt the only thing I can truly say in defense of this company is that they don't serve our sell soda but then again they aren't allowed to by federal law.... Judy don't buy it and they well have tip either change their menus or go away entirely.
Jackie Sargent August 28, 2012 at 02:52 PM
I used to try to make my daughter bring lunch when she was in JMMS, but she got bullied and made fun of. Not sure if bringing a bagged lunch is still a stigma with the junior high kids, but it's sad. If you bring something from home, you get picked on and called names because you're not "cool" enough to buy lunch. I also got fed up with fries being served. If I gave her lunch money, what do you think she's buy? Of course, junk! I didn't buy junk so it was a way to get it. When I asked about changing the menu (now 10 years ago) I was told that Fries are considered a vegetable. FRIES ARE NOT VEGGIES! They are made from potatoes just like chips, but are not nutritious. Are chips also veggies? I hope that they change this soon for the benefit of all school children.
Lise Cavallaro August 28, 2012 at 05:01 PM
auto correct???
Lise Cavallaro August 28, 2012 at 05:07 PM
You are right. If it's that bad, don't buy it.
Becki Pastor August 28, 2012 at 07:09 PM
For those who are concerned about nutrition, I just ran into a friend who works in JMMS cafeteria and there's some great news. They ate now only going to serve grinch fries once a week and every meal will come with vegetables and fruit and burgers will not be available every day. They really are trying to change it sounds like. And apparently it came from some of the workers to ask for the neuronal changes....especially since many of them are Moms in the school system. Just thought I would share.
Becki Pastor August 28, 2012 at 07:10 PM
Sorry autocorrect....french fries!! and nutritional lol
Rosie August 28, 2012 at 07:18 PM
True, if it's bad, don't buy it...at least that's what I think you tried to say. I send my child with lunch most days. But the truth is, Ms. Pastore, that way to many families don't have the resources to provide healthy lunches for their children. Do you have any idea the amount of children on free and reduced lunch because of the family financial situations? Well, I have a clue. For some kids this is the only meal they will get. So, we should just not care, and "stop complaining"?? Really, if you want to comment, first try proof reading and spell check. Then, actually know what you are talking about. I don't care if it's one child or one thousand children...the meals are crap.
Patrick Madley August 28, 2012 at 07:31 PM
Sounds like we have some proponents for Whitsons in here, haha. Fact of the matter is, a lot of students won't get a meal throughout the day except for this one. As Rosie stated above, this may be their only meal and we have a large amount of students on free or reduced lunch. I am sorry but we really need to look into what's best for the students. They get overlooked way too often. They need a nutritious meal. Not saying Whitsons does not have a nutritional value to it. I'm just stating a fact.
Matt Lyons August 28, 2012 at 07:41 PM
Soylent Green was supposed to be nutritous too!
CAjones August 28, 2012 at 08:49 PM
that's some gooood sh..tuff...... but IT'S PEOPLE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!1
Becki Pastor August 28, 2012 at 09:54 PM
@Rosie, my kids actually do qualify for and get the free lunch program though they do sometimes bring their lunch as well and I agree it should be better and it sounds like they are trying....our I'd like to think they are And I agree that the spokesperson Whitsons is obligated to promote their agenda which is to keep the contract....that said a reality check and more corporate supervision and quality control would go much farther to improve their image. And yes autocorrect is not my friend but my computer is not available at the moment. Thanks for at least attempting to understand my digital chicken scratch!!
Matt Lyons August 28, 2012 at 10:57 PM
FYI The story of soylent Green was a product developed by the soylent corporation to feed the overwhelming masses as natural resources were depleted. There were already other designated colors of soylent before green was released. Green was supposed to be algae based using abundant algae grown from the oceans. But when it came time to make it , it was found that the oceans had been depleted of all life and no algae was to be found. So, the corporation, working with key government officials decided to use humans. This would feed the masses and also create population control.


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