Category: Schools -                                                        cfsg by charlz koskinen
Here it is. A Chicago public school has officially banned lunches from home. And I have mixed feelings about it.

In other countries, this is common practice. In fact, in France it is rare to find a home-made lunch in a school, and they're probably better off for it. The difference is that the French use meal times as an opportunity to educate their children about food and eating. The US typically jams all of their students into a mess hall, where they are fed french fries, chocolate milk, and goddamn breakfast pizza. I have little confidence in this movement. But I'm not so quick to judge!

The tricky part about an issue like this is that once children and children's rights are mentioned, everyone seems to get completely libertarian. It was hard to find anything written on this that didn't condemn Principal Elsa Carmona's decision, which was made with some justice. I mean, from what I know I'm against it, but it certainly makes sense if everyone's bringing Lunchables and soda to school. On top of that, the feedlot mentality that seems to befall most school cafeterias really sets up a kid for a life of not enjoying food. Being herded into a big, white room to sit down in front of a piece of goddamn breakfast pizza (I really have an issue with the whole breakfast pizza thing, in case you couldn't tell) is not exactly conducive to encouraging one to think about their food, much less enjoy it.
I don't think anyone – aside from Ronald Reagan – has ever claimed that children voluntarily pick healthful foods. Even on their best days, most kids I've met would pick a McNugget over brown rice without an iota of hesitation. Can we really blame them? I didn't start to like what I considered "health foods" until I was about 17. But to be fair, I also never liked school lunches. From Kindergarten through 9th grade (when I got sent off to boarding school and thus no longer had the option), I had a sandwich assembled by my father to take to school every day, as did my siblings (he estimates he's made 9,900 school lunches). The flaccid squares of pizza and crumbling burgers that my classmates ate never appealed to me, and I think I'm better off for it. However, being a picky little butterball, my choice was solely one of taste – not one of health. In the 8th grade, I visited McDonald's about twice a week (in stead of attending a last-period study hall. What angsty tween would've chosen otherwise?). It was at my 2nd boarding school/wilderness program that I chose (read: was forced) to eat healthily. I was fed lots of quinoa and whole grains and no red meat. Defecating thrice a day and munching on TVP is an interesting adjustment for an adolescent to make, but I was eating well and I felt great.

Uhh... Oh, right! School lunches! One of the biggest charges in school lunches as of late is to lower sodium. Salt, being of course sodium chloride (NaCl), is virtually the only source of sodium in the human diet. It also just happens to taste great (not on its own, however). School cafeterias load up their French fries and breakfast pizza with salt because it's a cheap way to feign quality and stimulate the taste buds. From experience throughout my various dietary cycles, once one gets used to salty foods, it's hard to cut back. Selling out our kids like this could send them down a salty path, from which there may not be coming back. Excess salt intake can cause a stroke or cardiovascular disease, hypertension (that is, high blood pressure), and has been linked to edema, a gross fluid buildup beneath the skin. Blaah! Scary!

About a year ago, Michelle Obama launched Let's Move, a campaign aimed at getting kids to eat healthier. Since then, Barack Obama passed the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, which, among other things, aimed to increase the nutritional value of school lunches being served in cafeterias. To read more about that, click on one of these words. Or this one. Wait, why is this in my opinions section? Oh yeah, I think it's good.

Back to sodium. Over the next ten years, the HHFK Act will reduce the amount of sodium in school lunches by almost half. When school systems immediately overhaul the entire menu, students start selling candy and soda in cafeterias, and making the kind of money of which their teachers would probably be jealous. Sure, it's great practice for a lucrative career in drug dealing, but I think we could do without that mess going down in 4th grade. It makes sense to de-salinate our cafeteria's menus gradually, but it kind of sucks for all the little fatties cramming their faces with coronary disease for the next few years. And needless to say, improving school lunches is just a first step. There'll still be zillions of people ordering Domino's or swinging by Burger King every night, getting enough sodium to kill a horse. Me? I just want everyone to feel great. I know that I feel great when I eat well, and I used to be quite a little chunker. I believe that physical health in super-duper important and stuff, and I hope other people are as happy as they can be. Personally, I don't think gorging myself on Big Macs and dying at 40 is the best way to spend my life, but if someone else genuinely believes that, more power to them. As long as they know their options and their decision is informed. I don't believe in serving crap in public schools, because that's unfairly stacking the odds, but I'd also hate to understate the importance of teachers and parents in the matter.