First, they came for the Happy Meals.
There was a time in this country when schools were worried about kids bringing knives and guns to school from home. Now it appears there is a new threat, not on the horizon but afflicting our dear school children even as we speak. What is this new danger that can only be dealt with via the tried and true zero tolerance policies that schools use to deal with weaponry?
Fernando Dominguez cut the figure of a young revolutionary leader during a recent lunch period at his elementary school.
"Who thinks the lunch is not good enough?" the seventh-grader shouted to his lunch mates in Spanish and English.
Dozens of hands flew in the air and fellow students shouted along: "We should bring our own lunch! We should bring our own lunch! We should bring our own lunch!"
Fernando waved his hand over the crowd and asked a visiting reporter: "Do you see the situation?"
At his public school, Little Village Academy on Chicago's West Side, students are not allowed to pack lunches from home. Unless they have a medical excuse, they must eat the food served in the cafeteria.
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."
Of course, it's not really about nutrition now is it?
Any school that bans homemade lunches 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.
Yes, we're being quite cynical in wanting you to believe its just about pocket-lining and the potential for graft but as the budding young revolutionaries at the top of the article have been too quick to figure out, it's also about power and control and in this case, the power wielded by the state to control the kids' eating habits to what the state sees as correct diets.
Unfortunately, for the statist authoritarians in Chicago, kids don't like crappy institutional food anymore than
At Little Village, most students must take the meals served in the cafeteria or go hungry or both. During a recent visit to the school, dozens of students took the lunch but threw most of it in the garbage uneaten. Though CPS has 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.
"Some of the kids don't like the food they give at our school for lunch or breakfast," said Little Village parent Erica Martinez. "So it would be a good idea if they could bring their lunch so they could at least eat something."
Do you know what else would be a good idea? For schools to get the hell out of the meals program, altogether.
Alas, this statism via the cafeteria has addled the minds of some nanny-state parents.
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."
What were we saying again about control? Why an apparently well-meaning Mr. Medina should care what any other parent is putting in his kid's lunch is completely beyond us.
Oh, and to top it all off, this mandatory lunch program runs $2.25/day which in many cases exceeds the cost families pay for their childrens' lunches, healthy or not. And what if parents are sending their children to school with healthier lunches than the crap slung over the sneeze guard by the school? Who gets screwed then?
Then again, maybe we're not giving the schools the credit they deserve. Maybe it's actually a brilliant plan to get the kids to eat healthier by making them eat the crap they are providing.
Many Little Village students claim that, given the opportunity, they would make sound choices.
"They're afraid that we'll all bring in greasy food instead of healthy food and it won't be as good as what they give us at school," said student Yesenia Gutierrez. "It's really lame. If we could bring in our own lunches, everyone knows what they'd bring. For example, the vegetarians could bring in their own veggie food."
"I would bring a sandwich or a Subway and maybe a juice," said seventh-grader Ashley Valdez.
Second-grader Gerardo Ramos said, "I would bring a banana, orange and some grapes."
"I would bring a juice and like a sandwich," said fourth-grader Eric Sanchez.
"Sometimes I would bring the healthy stuff," second-grader Julian Ruiz said, "but sometimes I would bring Lunchables."
You can almost sense the fear in their words. It's like the "Scared Straight" of healthy diets.
No matter - because of stuff like this, schools need to get out of the school lunch program. We can see in this case alone of no better reason why.