In a country where one in three children is considered overweight or obese, one would think that parents and children would have free will to pack their own lunches. Not only to help children struggling with some of these issues at lunchtime, but also to help families concerned with GMOs, pesticides, artificial flavors, preservatives, hormones and even meat and/or dairy (if on a vegetarian or vegan diet) present in subsidized school lunches across the country.
However, this note recently surfaced in Richmond, Virginia, after a mother attempted to pack her own child’s lunch.
The text of the note reads:
I have received word from Federal Programs Preschool pertaining to lunches from home. Parents are to be informed that students can only bring lunches from home if there is a medical condition requiring a specific diet, along with a physicians note to that regard.
I am sorry for any inconvenience. If you have any questions concerning this matter, please contact Stephanie [redacted] the Health Coordinator for Federal Programs Preschool at [redacted].
And beyond the fact that the mere choice to keep her child healthy was taken away, the news here gets much worse. According to a New York Times article, 32 million U.S. children receive lunch from the National School Lunch Program. And the food they are eating is coming in the form of chicken nuggets, French fries, corn dogs, and tater tots (read: extremely processed, people).
According to Lucy Komisar, an investigative reporter and author reporting for The New York Times on this issue: “The Agriculture Department pays about $1 billion a year for commodities like fresh apples and sweet potatoes, chickens and turkeys. Schools get the food free; some cook it on site, but more and more pay processors to turn these healthy ingredients into fried chicken nuggets, fruit pastries, pizza and the like. The Center for Science in the Public Interest has warned that sending food to be processed often means lower nutritional value and noted that ‘many schools continue to exceed the standards for fat, saturated fat and sodium.’ A 2008 study by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found that by the time many healthier commodities reach students, ‘they have about the same nutritional value as junk foods.’”
All of this equates to more than 4 billion grease-laden, GMO-filled, highly-processed, and preserved meals per year served to children at public schools. And public health officials from across the country have begun to acknowledge the innumerable health issues – from allergies to diabetes risk – that these meals are likely contributing to.
So, why then do we continue to serve up these types of meals to (literally) captive children?
“About a quarter of the school nutrition program has been privatized, much of it outsourced to food service management giants like Aramark, based in Philadelphia; Sodexo, based in France; and the Chartwells division of the Compass Group, based in Britain,” said Komisar. “They work in tandem with food manufacturers like the chicken producers Tyson and Pilgrim’s, all of which profit when good food is turned to bad.”
This is only the proverbial tip of the iceberg when it comes to the issues found in public school lunches. In this country where “treating” is emphasized over “preventing” health issues, the bottom line here is that families should have a choice to fight back in the only way possible: by packing healthier options for their children in the name of preventative care. A “medical condition” should not already have to exist – plain and simple. When the public schools take it a step further by not allowing outside food in without a doctor’s note, they’ve gone much too far in holding children’s health captive in the name of profit.
Image Source: Melissa/Flickr