An Inner Debate
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.