Monday, April 11, 2011

Food Fight!

Remember the processed swill that passed for food in your school cafeteria?

Imagine if someone told you that was all you could have for lunch?

According to the Chicago Tribune, that's exactly what is happening under a new policy at Chicago's Little Village Academy.

I took bag lunches most of the time in elementary school for two reasons:  One, my school cafeteria only made two dishes that were actually palatable: pizza and hamburgers.  Two, it was actually more affordable for my mom to send a healthy bag lunch from home.  I switched to bag lunches entirely in junior high.

Unsulfured Dried California Apricots
I suppose my mom might have been a little ahead of her time, really. Feeding healthy food to kids is all the rage now, but my mom was already doing it before it was cool. My lunch usually consisted of a sandwich on whole wheat bread, and some unsulphured dried fruit, and maybe some yogurt. Occasionally, there would be some blue corn chips and a do-it-yourself alternative to a Lunchable consisting of meats and cheeses my mom sliced herself, and some organic crackers or blue corn chips.

Blue Corn Chips
Yes, occasionally my friends would make remarks about my food.  They had never seen blue corn chips before, much less an unsulfured dried apricot.  I told them the apricots were really leather boot heels, and the blue corn chips were made of granite.  I have to say that I got kind of a kick out of their horrified reactions, espeically since I knew my food tasted better theirs. My mother encouraged this.  Frankly, I think this little lesson in the joys of being a little different was highly beneficial to me later on.

To this day, I detest the taste of fruit preserved with sulfur dioxide (a food preservative and an industrial pollutant, by the way), and I prefer to avoid processed cheese.

If someone had told me I was now required to eat the revolting mess that passed for a "sloppy joe" at my school, I think I would have reacted exactly the same way as these kids in Chicago:

Fernando Dominguez cut the figure of a young revolutionary leader during a recent lunch period at his elementary school.

"Who thinks the lunch is not good enough?" the seventh-grader shouted to his lunch mates in Spanish and English.

Dozens of hands flew in the air and fellow students shouted along: "We should bring our own lunch! We should bring our own lunch! We should bring our own lunch!"

Fernando waved his hand over the crowd and asked a visiting reporter: "Do you see the situation?"

Call the detention supervisor! We have a food rebellion!

Really, after looking at what passes for "enchiladas" in the Chicago Tribune picture, I completely understand.  It looks like it's been used already. Yuck.

The school's principal states that this policy was implemented after she saw a lot of junk food brought along on field trips.  What does she call that stuff in the photo?

Even if the kids' everyday lunches aren't any better than cafeteria food, the school is still imposing a financial burden on parents by requiring them to purchase a school lunch everyday for their kids.  Many families who do not qualify for free or reduced lunches still have to watch their budgets closely, and bag lunches are usually cheaper.

And then there is the question of whether cafeteria food is actually healthy.  The nutritional value of the food is open to doubt, as is the safety and cleanliness of many cafeterias. Just serving under-ripened fruit and a carton of milk with that greasy pile of slop that they call "enchiladas"  doesn't make it a healthy meal.

Interestingly, the Tribune follows the money:

Any school that bans homemade lunches also puts more money in the pockets of the district's food provider, Chartwells-Thompson. The federal government pays the district for each free or reduced-price lunch taken, and the caterer receives a set fee from the district per lunch.
First they tell parents the school lunches are the healthiest option, even though their contents barely resemble actual food,  and then they force people to buy them?  I'm surprised more parents aren't questioning this rather convenient collusion between big government and big business.  Smells like yesterday's mystery fish tacos to me.

If the school sincerely wants to improve students' health, its officials should consider treating the parents like intelligent human beings instead of assuming they're too ignorant or apathetic to feed their own children.

Some people don't know how to eat well, but sincerely wish to learn!   Most parents do actually want healthy children, many are receptive to useful information about how to achieve this. In most urban communities, there are local organizations dedicated to promoting healthy eating.  The school could offer information on such organizations, or even invite them into the school to talk to interested parents. (What a concept! A school promoting education!)

Real parenting and real food sound like the healthiest combination to me.


Update: "Real Food" activists and political conservatives are equally outraged by this bag lunch ban. See this post by "WellnessMama", and this by Jenn Savage at the "Mother Nature Network".

No comments: