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School Food…

A heartfelt apology to anyone who ready my last post and was waiting for the post I promised for Monday night.  I hurt myself and just couldn’t concentrate through the pain.  Dang, the big toe really hurts when you smash it good.  On the other hand, I’m kind of glad that I didn’t because I would have missed adding my comments on the new season of Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution which started Tuesday night.  That and this article about Chicago’s Little Village Academy.

By now, most everyone has heard that the Little Village Academy has banned brown bag lunches except for those students who have specific allergies.  As a parent of an elementary school child, I’m not so sure this would be the best thing.  A common lunch at my daughter’s school is pancakes and syrup, or french toast sticks and syrup along with tater tots, or if they’re lucky, cheese pizza.  Apparently a slice of cheese pizza meets the USDA’s guidelines for a complete lunch.  You see it has bread (crust), vegetables (sauce), protein (cheese), and dairy (cheese), which makes it a complete meal.  Pancakes, syrup and tater tots also seems to constitute a complete and balanced meal.  I’m not entirely sure being that there is no protein in this “meal” at all.  After talking with my daughter, fruit is in syrup in a plastic cup, vegetables are optional, and the salad bar is used only about 5 days of the month.  If Little Village Academy is anything like this, I can’t see that they offer better than a parent can pack for their child.  I suspect that they’re making this a requirement in order to be able to get the government funding they want.  You see, it really is all a numbers game.  If you don’t have enough students getting the school provided lunch, the government cuts funding to your school for lunches.  In addition, they sound like they’re one of the higher end public schools, like the STEM schools in my area, with a lower rate of subsidized lunches meaning fewer students who “need” lunches.  So if fewer low income students means less demand for lunches, that means less government grants for the lunch program.  How do you offset that?  Ban brown bag lunches and charge more for the required school provided lunch.  Currently, school lunches cost $1.80 per day at my daughter’s school, the Little Village Academy charges$2.25.  You may say, “Well that’s not that much different and they’re in a big city so the cost of living is higher.”  The USDA is saying that they give $2.72 per subsidized lunch, so the unsubsidized student should pay about the same.  A compromise for the 2011 – 2012 school year puts the price of an unsubsidized lunch per the USDA at $2.46.  Little Village is still lower than next years planned price, but that’s next year I’m sure the price will go up to match the USDA at least.

To put it bluntly, I think there’s more to Little Village’s ban on brown bag lunches than just the nutritional needs of the children.  I honestly think it’s more a fiscal matter than a way of helping the kids.  Of course if the kids do get better food for the effort it would be a good thing, but then you just ban certain foods from the school, not all personal foods.

Now, on to the Food Revolution.  Last season when Jamie announced his revolution, I was one of the very first to sign up and sign his petition to reform school lunches.  I fully support his efforts and as a result, have had my daughter taking her lunch to school every day.  I only wish that I had the time to go to the school, district and school board and demand that they make better choices for all students.  That said, after seeing last night’s premier of season 2, I’ll admit that the LA school lunches have to be the absolute worst crap you could serve a child.  I’m sure the California prison system gets better food than the students.  I know that the Wisconsin prisons get the same crap as the schools do because the same company, Sodexo,  provides “nutrition” for both.  If that doesn’t tell you something about the connection between nutrition and criminal behavior I don’t know how else to make that connection.

I’ve been following Jamie’s adventures in LA via Twitter for the past year, so nothing being shown is that much of a surprise for me, but seeing a school bus over filling with sugar from a week’s worth of school lunches was just shocking.  I wouldn’t be shocked to see a similar result if salt had been the example either since all that processed food is high in sodium.

Jamie, if you should somehow manage to see this, my promise to you is that when my daughter goes into middle school next year, I will find the time to go after the school and make sure that the lunch program is nutritionally supportive of the children’s learning.

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