Tuesday, April 12, 2011

We Are Ready For a Revolution, Why I Support A Homemade Lunch Ban At School

I believe the audible gasp from suburban mothers was heard to the moon yesterday when they read this article in the Chicago Tribune about a ban on homemade packed lunches at one school. This story swept through Twitter and even Facebook with outraged comments and the same shared sentiment,  I've heard it all and big brother is out to get us.

But is the government out to get us, does a school have the right to tell us what and how we should feed our kids? Well, as a mother that prides herself on what she feeds her children, we all know I would stand at the head of the pack when facing a homemade lunch ban at our school. I even write a blog about lunch packing, called Colorado Bento. I have no fears that this would become a reality in my community in Colorado because we just don't face the same issues a school does in an impoverished inner city neighborhood. Which also means, all you suburban moms that freaked out by the sensationalized story, can breath a sigh of relief today when you cut the crust off of Jane's organic peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

Here's the reality of the situation:

  • The ban is a school based decision, with the principal calling the shots, NOT the government. 
  • The school has a free/reduced lunch rate of 85%. I worked in a school that was 65% free/reduced lunch and I can't quite imagine the pressure on such a school with an 85% demographic, I'm just going to call it the entire school because I am sure the other 15% are not middle class or wealthy. 
  • The ban has been in affect for SIX years, so apparently it's working. If it wasn't there would be change. 
  • Wrap your brain around this, breakfast or lunch at school may be the only real meal a child is fed all day. Which means Monday mornings don't quite come fast enough for children living in poverty. I know this first hand. It's heartbreaking to see. 
  • When living in poverty many factors affect how you can feed your family, including access to fresh and affordable produce, plus lack of education of how to get the most nutrition out of the smallest budget. If my family is living in poverty, do I have a car? Does the market in walking distance offer quality food? Please understand, I'm not pointing fingers here at this particular community, these factors are an American issue in general, we all could use some shopping, cooking, and nutrition education. 
  • Bans are not made on a whim, when you see children bringing a brown bag filled with a bag of chips, some candy, and a soda for lunch, it's easy to feel defeated and outraged. You know they deserve better. In this case, Principal Elsa Carmona feels like she is giving the children what they deserve, a healthier meal than they are being given from home. 
Unfortunately it's hard for so many of us to imagine circumstances of poverty and what that truly looks like. In the case of this one school being used and sensationalized by the media, I completely support a homemade lunch ban. But, do I feel banning homemade lunch is a solution to an American societal ill? No I don't, extreme measures are taken in response to protect the children. Maybe it's time to turn your outrage into something positive, volunteer at an inner city school, they won't turn you down. Leave the comforts of suburbia and see what like is life just a short drive away. I know many of you haven't turned your backs, you do volunteer, you donate, you have lived such realities. I would have to guess that more than the majority of us truly want the best life for all American children, including what food fuels their growing bodies. Is nutrition a right or privilege? I suppose that's a whole other issue.

Grassroots education with programs like community farms make a huge impact on how children are fed, plus they take a wealth of first hand knowledge with them through life. Programs like Farm To School are making it happen. There are thousands of people volunteering their time and donating money to help keep school gardens afloat in America. The trend is on the rise and the benefits will pay off immeasurably.

We certainly have an uphill battle with regards to nutrition, especially with leaps in the rise of obesity rates, and access to heathy affordable food in America. This issue is not going to disappear in our lifetime. I will be the first to say, the health issues Americans face today will not go away until our government stops putting corporations first. The top food producers in the United States are feeding us products that are laden with genetically modified corn and soy, chemicals, and toxic additives. Does a company that produces genetically modified crops (which causes inflammation in our body) and a pharmaceutical drug that reduces inflammation, really have our best interest at the core of their values? Is an $11.9 billion dollar profit forecast going to change their ways? NO. Could such a corporation use their wealth and power to truly change the American food system for the better? Yes.

I can't tell you how often I dream about America being a place that puts the health of the citizens before a corporate profit margin. I will continue to dream and fight. Maybe we should shake hands and join this fight for change together.

On a related note, Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution season 2 starts tonight. Tune in to see what he is doing to bring about change, I certainly will.



  1. EXCELLENT point you make. Those of us who saw the headline and screamed are likely to be suburbanites who pack the organic milk, grass fed roast beef and multigrain bread into our kids' lunchboxes each morning, and think that "school lunch" is sloppy joes and tater tots. Thanks for putting all this into the proper context!

  2. I live in a bubble and hadn't heard about this at all. Just read the article and your post; you made excellent points. The statistics are just heartbreaking, aren't they?

  3. I see your point and worked in an inner city school my first year of teaching. Many of my kids had hot cheetos for lunch with a soda. But the cafeteria food wasn't much better. I can understand why the principal made this decision, but what about providing a list of forbidden foods and easy nutritious recipes to those guilty parents instead? And if they repeatedly bring the unhealthy snack/lunch, make them buy the lunch. Why does everyone else have to be suffer the consequence?? I think it's a little extreme to "make" the parents buy school lunch. It's not fair to those parents who may provide a healthy lunch for their child, as I read some kids do bring a healthy lunch. I don't know what the answer is...that's a tough decision. If that happened in our community, I would be against it. A person should be allowed a choice.

  4. Really thoughtful post, thank you! I enjoy watching Jamie Oliver and supporting the revolution.

  5. You have a lot of valid points, but there are still a lot of questions about this system and I do think that it over steps the boundries.
    For those kids that are being sent in with potato chips, donuts and soda...SOMEONE is allowing them to bring that stuff in. SOMEONE is saying, hey here's what I bought for lunch for you - take what you want. Who is any school or government to tell a parent, "no"? For many of those kids it probably IS cheaper for the parents to have their child buy school lunches but for whatever reason they aren't. Maybe the kid just simply doesn't want a school lunch or maybe the parents dont understand the financial impact that buying food for lunch has on a budget.
    Also, what kind of lunches does this school offer? How nutritious are they? Is there a specific menu they have to buy from or is there an ala carte type thing where they can go get nachos, french fries or sugary drinks? And what about kids with food allergies?
    Banning anything is not the answer. Once again Americans are willing to give up their rights to choose for "protection" and assurance that the individuals running the school know better than they do.
    The solution is exactly what Jamie Oliver himself preaches...education. People need to be educated, children need to be educated. I might not have access to a car and the closest place for me to get food might be the gas station down the road, but if I was informed properly I might decide it'd be better to buy a loaf of bread and peanut butter instead of a candy bar and chips. Or maybe with a proper instruction on the benefits of healthy food my child won't argue with me to pack donuts and a soda.

  6. I was one of those kids who was forced to get the school lunch and then I sat there and wouldn't only drink the milk on chocolate milk day and the fluffy white roll. Everything else was technically "nutritious" (this was back in the 1970's when everything was actually cooked on-site).

    But, I was no fool. I gagged when I tried to eat the overcooked and under seasoned vegetables. And, the over worked mashed potatoes drowning in gravy. (I still can't be in the room with overcooked mustard greens). I still shudder to think of the days that I was FORCED to try a bite of everything at the table by a teacher or by my visiting mother. (I haven't forgiven her).

    When I finally convinced my mother to let me pack my lunch (which was definitely more expensive), we weren't allowed to pack chips or soda or any crap in our lunch box. I remember an awful lot of soup (in thermoses) and sandwiches.

    So, I agree with this rule to outlaw packed lunches in theory, but I'd probably still be that silly child not eating anything at all.

  7. It a shame that instead of banning home packed lunches...they can't educate the parents.

    My husband and I both come from backgrounds where our parents fed us poorly and taught us bad habits because they didn't know any better.

  8. I commented earlier this week, but for some reason it never showed up. The short version: I agree with much of what you're saying, and you argue your points well. There was an interesting perspective on this by Valerie Strauss on the Washington Post's blog "The Answer Sheets." She more or less argues that by making healthy choices for kids rather than educating them about why they are healthy choices, we are doing them a disservice. It's worth a read since this is such a complicated issue.

  9. It's drastic but if we were affected, maybe we'd step up! We're living in a stupor of good-enough, and it's not good enough. Here's my post about The Food Revolution today - Mrs. Q is coming up later in the week.



I always appreciate the gesture to stop and take a moment to comment. Thank you!