Learning As I Chop

An Inner Debate

Posted in Food Philosophies by R @ Learning As I Chop on April 12, 2011

About an hour ago, Mark Bittman tweeted this article and my jaw dropped. Then I read the article and proceeded to have an inner debate with myself. For those of you who haven’t clicked, a Chicago school has decided to ban homemade/brown-bagged lunches. The students can either eat at the school cafeteria or skip lunch. (Because skipping lunch is healthy, right?) As I see it, these are the main points of this decision:

1)      In an effort to curb childhood obesity, the school will give your kids “good lunches” rather than allowing you to pack unhealthy ones. The article contends that poorer families feed their children unhealthier lunches because that’s all they can afford to buy. But is making them pay more the answer? What about re-hauling our entire food system? What about making whole grains and fruits/vegetables cheaper than Chef Boyardee? Or what about raising the minimum wage so poorer parents can work less hours to earn the same salary, hence providing more hours with their children and more time in the kitchen?

2)      These school lunches cost $2.25 a day, which is more than some families can afford to spend.  However some families might be able to qualify for a reduced fee. Given this country’s policy on financial aid/scholarships/public assistance, I am dubious. There are many families that fall within the purgatory of not making too little, while simultaneously not making enough. I doubt it will be different here.

3)      Allergies are the only exception to this rule.  So if you are severely allergic to nuts or wheat, you may bring your lunch. But what about families who are kosher? Vegan? Vegetarian? Paleo? Whatever their eating preferences, why should children be forced to eat a lunch that contradicts their familial beliefs? Doesn’t feel right.

4)      As we’ve seen with Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, school lunches might be moving in the right direction, but they still have a long way to go. According to this article, these Chicago school lunches require one vegetable per day.  Is that healthier than a parent who packs carrot sticks, a sandwich and apple for their child? Not so sure. At the same time, I am aware that not all parents pack these type of lunches. However wouldn’t some kind of food education or half-way point be better? For example, you can choose to pack or buy, but each kid gets a free piece of fruit each day?  Sure, a girl can dream. Especially when so many NYC schools currently can’t even afford proper textbooks.

5)      Lastly, is this rule crossing a line? I am pretty liberal person, but is it our country’s right to tell you how to eat? Sure, the government provides nutritional pyramids (which by the way are often swayed by food lobbyists and tend to change every few years) and enforce a drinking age, but should they force parents how and what to feed their children?  Are we going too far?

Some food for thought on this rainy Tuesday. If you are interested in following the larger school-lunch issue, a Chicago schoolteacher has started a blog. I look forward to hearing more about this decision. Thank you.

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3 Responses

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  1. Eleanor W. said, on April 13, 2011 at 10:00 pm

    As I am sitting here neglecting to work on my economics paper I realized this is a perfect example of a “regressive” policy. It’s a policy that’s set up to help people, but disproportionally impacts the poor (often the people the policy was set up to help). I don’t know about where charter schools (or Chicago for that matter) falls on this, but I would hope that if the students are low income enough that they qualify for free lunch, this lunch would be provided. Still, this is a very paternalistic policy, one that economists would not like! I think the money would be better spent improving the cafeteria food and then having nutrition education and cooking classes for the whole family. Now if someone would only put me in charge…

  2. SW said, on April 13, 2011 at 11:58 pm

    1) What is the cost of implementing this policy? Who will be monitoring students’ lunch bags? Teachers? Food staff? Administrators? As it stands (at least in NYC,) school lunches already have their own bureaucratic nightmares.

    2) The free fruit idea is an interesting one, especially since it would (partially) fulfill one of the USDA nutrition requirements. (It’s either that fruit has to be on the students’ tray or provided–can’t remember the details.)

    3) The nutrition pyramid was created by the USDA, an agency founded to protect the agricultural industry. Two breads in every school lunch may cause post-lunch carb comas in normal humans, but at least it supports grain producers…

    4) When did we begin criminalizing food?

  3. Amanda said, on April 14, 2011 at 12:06 pm

    Ignoring the monetary aspect of this policy…As a child I refused to eat school lunch. I made it K-12 never having eaten a school lunch. I was a very picky child and wouldn’t touch the stuff in the cafeteria! My mother packed me a healthier lunch, that I would eat. In this case I would have thrown away my lunch every day. What good is wasted food and hungry children?


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