Who would have ever thought that the youth would revolt over bringing their own lunches to school? But while young communists march against austerity in Britain, young people at one Chicago school are fighting their administrators for the opportunity to pack their own meals. All because the school wants to promote healthy choices.
“Who thinks the lunch is not good enough?” the Chicago Tribune recently observed seventh-grader Fernando Dominguez shouting to his lunch mates in Spanish and English at Little Village Academy. It’s a public school on Chicago’s West Side.
As numerous hands reached for the ceiling, Dominguez led a chant: “We should bring our own lunch! We should bring our own lunch! We should bring our own lunch!”
At the school, students are only allowed to bring their own lunch if they have a medical excuse. Why? You guessed it: the school wants to protect children from food that’s unhealthy.
“Nutrition wise, it is better for the children to eat at the school,”Principal Elsa Carmona told the Tribune. “It’s about the nutrition and the excellent quality food that they are able to serve (in the lunchroom). It’s milk versus a Coke. But with allergies and any medical issue, of course, we would make an exception.”
Carmona said she instituted the policy six years ago when she got tired of seeing kids bringing chips and soda. According to her, it’s a common practice in Chicago. And according to a district spokesperson, that’s okay.
“While there is no formal policy, principals use common sense judgment based on their individual school environments,” Monique Bond wrote in an email. “In this case, this principal is encouraging the healthier choices and attempting to make an impact that extends beyond the classroom.”
The ban has had two effects. First, more government money funneled to the school lunch provider. And second, ironically, less students eating the meals. The Tribune explains the not-so-shocking details:
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.
At Little Village, most students must take the meals served in the cafeteria or go hungry or both. During a recent visit to the school, dozens of students took the lunch but threw most of it in the garbage uneaten. Though CPS has improved the nutritional quality of its meals this year, it also has seen a drop-off in meal participation among students, many of whom say the food tastes bad.
“Some of the kids don’t like the food they give at our school for lunch or breakfast,” Little Village parent Erica Martinez told the Tribune. “So it would be a good idea if they could bring their lunch so they could at least eat something.”
“This is such a fundamental infringement on parental responsibility,” J. Justin Wilson, a senior researcher at the Washington-based Center for Consumer Freedom, told the Tribune. (The center is partially funded by the food industry, the news outlet reports.)
“Would the school balk if the parent wanted to prepare a healthier meal?” he added. “This is the perfect illustration of how the government’s one-size-fits-all mandate on nutrition fails time and time again. Some parents may want to pack a gluten-free meal for a child, and others may have no problem with a child enjoying soda.”
Read the full story from the Chicago Tribune.