Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Shame of Our Schools

You might already know that I teach 10th grade English at a rigorous, low-income charter school called YES Prep. What you might not know is that more than 80% of our students qualify for free and reduced meals -- and what you almost assuredly do not know is what “free and reduced lunch” looks like.

Well, here you go. It looks like this.

Students qualify for free and reduced lunch, of course, because their families cannot always afford to pay for or provide regular meals. Oftentimes this lunch is the only meal of substance a child receives in a day. And when that “substance” consists of an off-color hot dog plus a few tarnished pieces of canned pineapple –- or about 350 calories total –- we’ve got a problem. It’s called Hollow-Eyed, Malaisical, I-Have-No-Energy-to-Pay-Attention disease. [Sigh.]

This problem is not new. Plenty of people are loud about the fact that school lunches absolutely blow. Chef Ann Cooper, the Renegade Lunch Lady, is one of them. A few weeks ago, Cooper came to town to tout the School Lunch Revolution, an idea she successfully implemented in Berkeley, CA. This plan seeks to make lunches healthier and more substantial, yet still tasty: Whole wheat crust and veggies on pizza, roasted potatoes instead of French fries, baked chicken instead of mystery meat. In short, her idea looks like this meal, sponsored by Whole Foods and served to us at the info session.

Chef Cooper has even put some numbers behind her idea: She says that 25% of our country’s healthcare spend goes to obesity/diabetes (that’s $260 billion of $1 trillion). And her solution is simple: We currently spent $8.5 billion on school lunches, and we need to up that number to... $14 billion.

I’m sorry, what?

It’s a great idea in theory: We can pay for better, healthier food now, or we can pay even more for fancy-pants healthcare treatments later. And where do we get all this unaccounted-for money? Easy, she says -- We need $1 more per student per day, so quit funding money-suck initiatives like Cash for Clunkers and the Iraq War.

The simplicity is *almost* refreshing -- yet also completely infuriating.

There’s no one out there that’s opposed to serving healthier, more substantial lunches in schools. But the question remains: If you had $5 billion to spend on education, would you put it towards food?

Consider the alternative.


Wendy said...

Great post! My kindergartner doesn't yet have access to school lunch, but I've already started trying to get a handle on the issues surrounding it. Money is obviously a huge factor, but honestly, how can kids concentrate on math and literature when their stomachs are grumbling? The pictures you show here are a fantastic way to illustrate exactly what our kids are getting and what they could be getting.

Missy Ann said...

That's what they're serving for lunch?! That is HORRIBLE.

First off it's not anywhere near enough food, secondly it's crap. I have nothing against hot dogs in principal, but I know that is not one I would serve my own kid. And if it's not good enough for my kid, it's not good enough for any kid.

artyeater said...

Good post. Among other things, I'm a public school art teacher in a school with very few students who qualify for free lunch. Many students bring their lunch but I'm appalled by what many of them bring - pre-packaged lunch-able things! And for those who do eat the school food it is indeed as bad as the lunch in your picture. I quit eating it long ago. I have fond memories of the cafeteria food from my childhood. Cooking was involved! And we had made from scratch biscuits, big white beans and ham and real baked chicken.

MrSnarkyPants said...

Our school lunches back in the day were just as dreadful. The schools didn't have kitchens, either - it all came in on a truck in a warmer. It's time we actually serve food

Anonymous said...

Should be titled the Shame of Our Parents since they are the ones not taking responsibility.

Anonymous said...

great post bring light to something that is very concerning. Not only will this improve the health of our children but also improve their performance in the classroom! Food is their fuel for learning. No wonder we are falling farther and farther behind! Look at what we feed them! Its not too surprising that my worst scoring classes are always those after lunch. Makes one think.