This past week I read an article by Liz Goodwin titled “Chicago school bans homemade lunches, the latest in national food fight”. I read it with disbelief and then anger. The article discusses changes not only in Chicago but other areas of the country, including ones that will be implemented as part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kid Act.
Among the changes discussed are:
Banning homemade lunches altogether (unless someone has allergies)
Banning drinks brought from home (since the school provides water)
Banning desserts (does fruit qualify as a dessert?) or anything with white flour or refined sugar
Banning anything processed
Limiting the calories contained in school lunches
Providing only reduced-fat salad dressings
Replacing French fries with other vegetables and fruit
I understand that the intentions behind all of these changes are to help kids be healthier, and I don’t have any argument with that goal. I do, however, strongly disagree with the way those intentions are being put into practice.
Take banning homemade lunches. As the article pointed out, forcing all the children to buy lunch is a financial hardship for some, because the full lunch price is more than most would spend if making their own lunch. It also implies that parents cannot be trusted to provide healthy meals for their children. I know that for some, this is the case, and that may be especially true for this Chicago school, where so many are on the poverty line and may not be able to afford healthy options. But is it true for everyone? No. Does it therefore make sense to unilaterally impose these changes?
As for not allowing desserts, or refined sugar, etc. – I have to wonder about the law-makers. Do they understand the implications of what they’re doing? They are instantly making those foods forbidden and “bad”, since they’re not allowed at school. Do they really think that kids won’t find ways to sneak those foods into school, or just eat more of them outside of school? Do they realize that when the kids do eat them, in secret, that those children are taking on the classification of “bad” for themselves? It has the potential to make sneaking snack cakes or candy or cookies equivalent to sneaking cigarettes. Is this something the cool, rebellious kids will be doing? I can almost picture it now – young people in leather jackets, with combat boots, dealing in black-market cookies and cupcakes in back alleys.
Then we come to limiting the types of food and calories and fat provided. Does this take into account that everyone, especially growing children, need some amount of fat? What about the fact that some kids need far more calories than others? If kids participate in sports, will they have clearance to eat more food? It strikes me as extremely ironic that the initiative is for “Hunger-Free” kids, but it seems very possible that some of the changes implemented might actually increase some children’s hunger.
Finally, if kids grow up with the experience of having their food mandated by the authorities, will that make them less able to decide for themselves what they should be eating? And will they assume that if the authorities have said that x amount of food and type of food is good, that it’s good for everyone, at all times, regardless of how hungry or not that particular child is or their particular dietary needs? I don’t know how this will play out, but I am worried that it will backfire, and we’ll end up in an even worse place than we are now.