Thursday, January 21, 2010

Fed up.

Any education reporter knows that the best place to talk to kids freely is the lunchroom. Especially during the two years I immersed myself in schools for a book project, I have eaten a lot of school lunches. At home I buy sides of beef from a farmer I know, who during her cows’ short lives cares for them to the point of practically singing them nursery rhymes, and I pay the Whole Foods or farmers market premium for produce that actually tastes like produce. But when I am reporting I have no problem eating meals in which every item is some form of yellow or beige. According to USA Today, I would be better off at KFC. No doubt. I never feel good after eating school food. 

So I wonder what will happen, medically and otherwise, to Mrs. Q, the anonymous teacher who is eating her school’s lunches every day for a year and blogging about it. First off, I hope that if school administrators find out who she is, they don’t give her crap (well, aside from the crap they give her in the cafeteria), because this is a terrific idea. It is more important than Morgan Spurlock’s experiment, because eating at McDonald’s is a choice and for most children eating school lunch is not. Second, I don’t have a death wish for this brave woman, but I would love to see her highlight breakfast too. Just because you fortify a honey bun with enough vitamins to qualify it for the free breakfast program does not make it a remotely good way to start the day. Hungry kids are a captive audience. They don’t need organic kale, but how about Cheerios?


  1. It is A CHOICE to eat school meals, whether you qualify for free meals or not. I do know people whose children qualify for free meals at school but CHOOSE to home-educate them. It's a CHOICE. Some people actually make big sacrifices for their choices, too.

    I think schools should be about educating children, not being their parents. I have no problem with temporary food stamps as charity given to people on hard times, but the school lunch thing strikes me as an industry in and of itself. (As does the "qualifying" items in the WIC program, but another post.) I think all of these things should be incorporated into the FOOD STAMPS program; otherwise, you have a not-so-subtle coercion to send poor children to public schools rather than keeping them home or otherwise privately educating them.

    I enjoyed the school lunch blog you linked to very much. Three dollars does seem a bit steep for the food served, but aside from the "steak" served one day, it didn't seem too awful. Personally, I send my older children to school with peanut butter sandwiches, one snack and a drink every day. They get bored with it, but just *imagine* the cost if I had all of my older children in school and feeding them lunch. $12 PER DAY without the extras like ice cream? $60 PER WEEK? No way.

  2. Mrs. C., the National School Lunch Program is technically run by the USDA, not the schools, though obviously it requires significant school district resources too. It was started right after World War II after many recruits and draftees were found to be malnourished when they showed up to report for duty -- so national security was a prime motivator.

    As with everything else in education, it's more complicated than it seems.

    By the way, I have a friend who's the cafeteria manager in an elite private school in the San Francisco Bay Area (Sean Penn's kids attend, for example). The lunch entree there is $6, but it's a la carte, and with extras, she says most students spend about $15/day on their top-quality school lunch.

  3. Caroline, for that kinda money, I'd be hiring a private tutor to accompany my children on our glamourous vacations. :)

    $15... per day... wow.