Op-Ed Contest: 3rd Place– The Price of Free School Lunches

A typical school lunch in America, with high sugars and carbohydrates, but with little nutrients. Image courtesy of iStock.com/DebbiSmirnoff.

By Devi Chandran (‘24)

There are many prevalent injustices in our nation, but nothing hits harder in the heart, or the stomach, than the unethicality of school lunches. Tom Colicchio, respected chef and entrepreneur, once said, “This is what people don’t understand: obesity is a symptom of poverty. It’s because kids – and this is the problem with school lunch right now – are getting sugar, fat, empty calories – lots of calories- but no nutrition.” Feeding the future of our nation should not be a political issue! As citizens of the union we must take a stand against meals lacking in nourishment, vegan and vegetarian options available, and the limit placed on the quantity of items our children can eat. Through unity, we can build on the current governmental foundation and right this abomination once and for all. 

The rapid surge in obesity levels amongst the younger generation is terrifying experts and parents alike. Unfortunately, one of the culprits behind the swell of childhood obesity is school lunch. A study done by the University of Michigan Health System found that children who ate school lunches had higher levels of LDL cholesterol, were more likely to be overweight, and were less likely to make healthier choices in the future. But when we are providing our children with cheap burgers and greasy fries, what should we expect? Fast food giants have crept into public schools that struggle with low cost menu items. Bettina Elias Siegel, food policy advocate and lawyer, states, “We’re still teaching kids on a daily basis that foods branded with the names Pop Tarts, Cheetos, Funyuns, and Domino’s are things that they can and should eat every day.” We are doing disservice to our children by neglecting to provide them with the basis for a healthy life. 

The United States makes up 2.2% of the globe’s total vegetarian population, and 6% of all U.S. citizens are vegans. Whether it be personal or religious, these beliefs are non negotiable. Then why are we not providing these alternatives on the school lunch menu? There is no USDA regulation that requires schools to offer vegetarian or vegan meals every day. In our own IA cafeteria, students have complained about the fact that there are no vegetarian salads! While there has been a recent rise in vegan only schools, every student should have the option to be a vegetarian or vegan should they choose to be. 

For low income families, school lunch is a guarantee that their children are receiving nourishment. A recent survey conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics found that eating school provided breakfast and lunch should account for roughly 50% of the student’s dietary intake. Yet, students on free lunch are often limited on what they receive. This takes on a greater degree of severity for schools with less financial funding. Everyone has different dietary needs, and someone’s financial status should not be the deciding factor between hunger or an extra apple. 

Those in political power argue that we are progressing on this topic, therefore resolving it. Thus, the general public is kept out of the loop, depriving them of the opportunity to take action. Appallingly, in 2020 the Department of Agriculture published a proposal that would, “introduce chocolate milk in schools, cut whole-grain serving requirements in half, and …weaken sodium reduction targets.” If we sit in silence and let the situation progress, it will cause irreversible damage to the future of America.

Judges Commentary

The author connects a familiar problem in a way that has far reach implications. The writing is clearly opinionated and provokes activism on part of the reader. Multiple strands of argument are explored and the author acknowledges and rebukes the position of those in power. Overall, it is an impressive piece and we look forward to reading more in the coming months and years.

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