Forcing students to buy school lunches


How far are people willing to go to ensure that others – in this case kids – make the “right” decisions? At the Little Village Academy on Chicago’s West Side, Principal Elsa Carmona will not allow lunch to be brought from home.  She said her intention is to protect students from their own unhealthful food choices.

The policy has been in place for six years and while Carmona declined to name other schools with similar policies, she said it is a common practice. Of course, schools that ban homemade lunches also put more money in the pockets of the district’s food provider, Chartwells-Thompson. They were unavailable for comment.

The students and their families have been told they must eat the school provided food or “go hungry” – and some are going hungry. According the the Chicago Tribune, “during a recent visit to the school, dozens of students took the lunch but threw most of it in the garbage uneaten. Though [Chicago Public Schools] have 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.” On the South Side of town, Claremont Academy Elementary confiscates the “bad” food – snacks that are high in sugar or salt.

School lunches and healthy eating are smaller parts of a national debate about the role government should play in individual food choices. “This is such a fundamental infringement on parental responsibility,” said J. Justin Wilson, a senior researcher at the Washington-based Center for Consumer Freedom. “They’re saying, ‘Parents don’t know what’s best for their children, the government does.’ ”

Of course, policies banning lunch from home also ignore the fact that school lunches can be, well, gross. Susan Rubin, a nutritionist and founder of the “Better School Food” programs has some pointed words for Little Village Academy. According to an AOL News interview, she didn’t mince words about the cafeteria food in most schools.

“It’s rare that I see a school, especially a public school, that actually serves food that’s good,” she said in a phone interview. “I get physically sick just looking at it, because it makes me sick that kids are eating this processed crap.”

School kids in Chicago are starting to protest and the issue is gaining national attention. Even on liberal Huffington post, some 80% of their readers voting in an online poll (bottom of the article) believe parents should be able to make decisions about their child’s nutrition. About 86 percent of the district’s students qualify for free or reduced price school lunches because their families live close to the poverty line. For the ones who don’t, they are forced to shell out $2.25 per child per day, while the cost of sending a nutritious meal from home is generally much lower.


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