Sarah Wu almost cried before she outed herself publicly. After all, the previously anonymous and wildly popular school lunch whistleblower had no idea what the fallout would be when she revealed that it was she who has exposed just how terrible school lunches are.
Wu had long been known as Mrs. Q, the undercover chronicler of school lunches. For a full year, the Chicago Public School teacher ate the lunches served to children, snapped cell phone pictures of them and posted them on her blog “Fed Up With Lunch.”
Here’s her video of the almost always unhealthy and sometimes grotesque meals:
It all began on a day Wu forgot her lunch and found herself eating in the cafeteria. She was so disgusted by the meal, she decided to post the evidence publicly from that day on. Word-of-mouth spread and her blog began attracting hundreds, then thousands of viewers. She eventually hit 1 million page views.
Earlier this month, Wu revealed her identity publicly on “Good Morning America” and at the same time published a new book “Fed Up with Lunch: The School Lunch Project: How One Anonymous Teacher Revealed the Truth About School Lunches — And How We Can Change Them!” (Chronicle Books, October 2011).
This week, I asked Wu about her decision to reveal her identity, the reaction to her blog and what happens next in her quest to overhaul school lunch. Our edited Q&A is below:
Q. What’s your reaction to the huge response to the blog?
Wu: It was very bizarre for me to get so much attention paid to my blog. When it first got noticed just two weeks into the project, I couldn’t make sense of it... After every new media exposure I felt initial fear and shock, but I would remind myself of the original intent of the blog, which was to raise awareness of school food. And every media exposure did just that. The reveal was oddly anti-climatic because I felt prepared for the media as there had been a lot of online buzz for the better part of 18 months. I will admit that just before I went onstage on “Good Morning America” for my big reveal I was so nervous that I got a little choked up and I told myself, “Don’t cry.” Good thing I held it in!
Q. Why did you decide to come out?
Wu: Around halfway through the project, I was approached by a literary agent about turning the blog and the experience of eating school lunch into a book. I talked with my agent about it and she believed that an anonymous book would not sell. I had to make a choice. Did I want to write a book and reveal myself or pass and stay anonymous? Ultimately, I decided that I wanted information about school lunch reform to reach a wider audience and so I decided to write a book.
Q. Any unexpected repercussions?
Wu: Virtually no member of [Chicago Public Schools] administration has contacted me verbally or via e-mail with one word about the blog or the book. I have to assume they have heard of both. I’m not sure I’m totally “out of the woods” in terms of repercussions. I think it’s too early to say. The book has not been out for two weeks yet and because where I work is such a large system, information about my notoriety/celebrity has not filtered out to individual schools. However, CPS nutrition services sent me a very nice e-mail inviting me to visit and discuss school lunch. I responded immediately that I was interested so we’ll see what happens next.
Q. What happens next for you and for your mission?
Wu: I’m still thinking about what I should do next.... I plan on continuing to blog at fedupwithlunch.com. I’m so proud of the book “Fed Up With Lunch” as it offers more than just a regurgitation of the blog. Since it was an anonymous blog, there were so many details about the experience of eating school food for a year that I wasn’t able to share at the time. Additionally, the last part of the book contains a resource guide for parents, teachers, kids, even chefs and nutritionists who would like to help change the food environment at school so that health and wellness are a focus.