Did you hear the one about the school lunch program in Chicago?
The Chicago Tribune recently reported that Little Village Academy, a public school on Chicago’s West Side, is prohibiting students from bringing packed lunches from home. Unless they have a medical excuse, they must eat the food served in the cafeteria.
According to the Tribune, the Principal, Elsa Carmona, said her intention is to protect students from their own unhealthful food choices. “Nutrition wise, it is better for the children to eat at the school,” Carmona said. “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.”
She created the policy after watching students bring “bottles of soda and flaming hot chips” on field trips for their lunch. Spokeswoman for the school system, Monique Bond, said, “While there is no formal policy, principals use common sense judgment based on their individual school environments. In this case, this principal is encouraging the healthier choices and attempting to make an impact that extends beyond the classroom.”
The conflict of interest, it appears, is that when a school bans homemade lunches it 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.
If students at Little Village don’t take the cafeteria meals, they go without. Or, they go hungry when they take the cafeteria food but then throw it in the garbage. Many students complain that the food tastes bad.
Parents have taken two sides of the argument. On one side, Anna Torrez said that her grandson “is really picky about what he eats. I think they should be able to bring their lunch.”
But parent Miguel Medina said he thinks the “no home lunch policy” is a good one. “The school food is very healthy,” he said, “and when they bring the food from home, there is no control over the food.”
It’s an interesting debate during this food revolution when people are discussing the role of the government in individual food choices.
I don’t know how the food compares to what was offered when I was in grade school in the 1970s but I was definitely a picky eater. I could bring peanut butter-and-jelly sandwiches five days a week and be perfectly content eating them in lieu of some of the choices offered at school. If I couldn’t pack my own lunch back then, I would have definitely gone hungry at school!