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More on School Lunches

I know many of you have been following the Fed Up With Lunch blog by anonymous teacher Mrs. Q. The original idea of the project was to eat school lunch with the kids every day and document the foods that were offered, but the site has turned into a bit of a phenomenon, and, like the Jamie Oliver business, is making people really start to think about the nature of the food we are providing to our kids. Anyway, Mrs. Q recently posted an entry about obesity that I found interesting. It sounds like she already has some fat acceptance-versed commenters, but I still think it's a good opportunity for us to participate in a discussion about fat kids and fat adults from the perspective of trying to provide better nutrition overall. So have a look and join in, if you're so inclined.

Melissa McEwan on Weight Evangelist Jamie Oliver and his new show | QUIT IT!!!!

Viola's picture
April 2nd, 2010 | Link | I see lots of thin kids at

I see lots of thin kids at school and they are eating the same foods as the obese kids. Are they eating the right calories and fats to nourish their bodies? Somehow I don't think so. They must be just eating less and maybe not enough of the good stuff.

Possibly. My daughter is on the chunky side. The other day she told me it's not fair that skinny people get to eat junkfood and be skinny both. She says her friends say that she has never had an unhealthy thing in her lunch. Her lunch is the thing I can most control, so I put in fruits and vegetables, and I rarely ever put in stuff like chips or desserts. But at home she eats a lot of refined carbs, like bagels and she gets a dessert. I don't know what goes on in her friends' homes.

richie79's picture
April 2nd, 2010 | Link | Sorry, leaving aside a

Sorry, leaving aside a couple of the comments I'm afraid I don't see much by way of FA there , just the same old tired tropes about how OMG teh obeeesidemic is gonna KILL our kidz!!11111one!! and how Something Must Be Done Because it Just Should. Mrs. Q asks "Who doesn't want to fight "obesity?" - erm, me, for one thing, I don't consider that "being obese is a big problem' any more than is being tall, it's just a natural human state governed predominantly by genes.

For another, I think there's altogether too much focus on food as some sort of social issue rather than on the nourishment and pleasure it provides; indeed the very existence of this school dinner blog and thousands of other sites like it all insisting we should 'think (ie worry) more about food' is probably compelling evidence of this.

I know it might be liberal heresy to say it but I just don't swallow this idea that you can make a huge difference to overall patterns of health - itself a problematic concept increasingly defined by numbers and charts rather than the presence or absence of sickness or disease - by regulating and restricting the types of food consumed, and I think that not only do most of the current 'initiatives' risk throwing the baby out with the bathwater, the whole ideological foundations (of the effectiveness OR legitimacy of state-directed behaviour, and of food as an indicator of parental morality) on which they are based is fundamentally flawed.

Whilst I'd obviously choose a focus on nutrition for all over one on weight loss for an identified minority as the lesser of two evils, I think in the present climate any serious attempts to control or influence what people put in their mouths is going to end up, intentionally or otherwise, invoking the desirability of a low body weight and using the restriction of foods considered high in calories, fat, whatever, as a means of achieving that. The language and parlance of weight loss and fat shame is far too deeply ingrained within every level of our culture for it to be any other way.

In particular, for so long as so-called 'unhealthy' food exists outside school I think it's problematic to stigmatise it and discourage it within school as it confuses children and undermines the sovereign parent, and to heavily restrict or remove it from society altogether (as growing numbers seem to desire) would be an unacceptable state infringment on all our rights to individual autonomy over our diets.

I'd rather fat and thin children alike were taught about the world around them in a balanced fashion (including undermining cultural assumptions about unpopular groups and their right to assert their own identity irrespective of whether the characteristics in which its founded is innate or choice-based) in schools where neither food nor weight were even issues worthy of mention.

By all accounts (in the UK at least, and I'm sure there are similar complaints in parts of the US) classrooms have in recent years been hijacked by various 'trendy' political causes such as this, in which the assertions of the current political or expert class are peddled as fact and sometimes at the expense of delivering a decent level of basic academic education (those two daily hours of PE or 'health ed' could be more constructively used for the 3 'R's, because kids who can communicate accurately can do their own research and form their own opinions on controversial issues).

A generation of kids who are terrified to eat white bread lest it might help turn them into the stereotypical fat they've been convinced by influences on and off campus to regard with suspicion, but who can barely string a coherent sentence together let alone think critically and creatively, strikes me as a catastrophic waste of potential.

"When people fear the government, there is tyranny; when government fears the people, there is liberty." - Thomas Jefferson

moxie3's picture
April 2nd, 2010 | Link | It was tormenting to me when

It was tormenting to me when my kids were grade school age kids and dealing with weight situations. I was the first mother to say to the gym teacher, please don't weigh my child because she's sensitive enough let alone be weighed in front of other kids as part of their gym program in the great state of NY.

Anyway I was alway sensitive about my own weight but when it came to my children and their weight it quadrupled!! There was always someone bringing it up whether it be our family doctor who I changed after she seemed somewhat abusive about it to me or family members. I wish I had a thicker skin or just the voice to vocalize how it made me feel or the kids feel and how it did no good to anyone! Anyway I'm not the perfect parent even of my daughters today and they're adults but I did my best and to have to deal with the crap parents have to deal with today I don't know if I could!!! Moxie3 Sad

DeeLeigh's picture
April 5th, 2010 | Link | When I was growing up in the

When I was growing up in the 1970s midwest, most kid's lunches consisted of a sandwich (usually on Wonder Bread), a small bag of potato chips, and a Little Debbie or Hostess cake. They'd be given milk money as well. Because she was health conscious and because I was heavier than the other kids, my mom made me choose between the salty snack and the dessert and added a piece of fruit or carrot and celery sticks. I usually got whole wheat bread, too. I didn't drink the milk because I didn't like it (I figured out as an adult that I'm lactose intolerant).

Fewer kids were fat back then, or at least that's what we're told. If it's true, then junk food isn't what makes kids fat. I'm not arguing that it was a healthy diet, though. I think my lunches were probably healthier than the other kids', but I don't see anything wrong with including one treat. It's unbelievable how uptight some people are about nutrition these days.

Bree's picture
April 5th, 2010 | Link | I almost always brown-bagged

I almost always brown-bagged my lunch. When I was in high school, sometimes I would choose a salad if I didn't bring something from home. The school lunch just didn't look appealing to me.

I can definitely understand trying to focus more on nutrition, but it's always, ALWAYS throwing fat kids under the bus in the name of reducing obesity. You can't talk about making school food better and healthier for just one group of kids, it has to be for all students in the school, regardless of weight.

Kunoichi April 5th, 2010 | Link | Schools need to do what's

Schools need to do what's right. Sometimes that undermines the sovereign parent.

When my husband was a kid in elementary, his mother, an RN, kick started a school lunch program in his school. The reason? She saw how many kids who's parents were sending them to school with a bag of chips and a can of pop for lunch. This would have been 30-35 years ago.

When we were in high school (about 25 years ago), the cafeteria, which had been closed for so long I didn't even know there'd been one, was re-opened. There was a single cook doing the job. Yes, we were a very small school. Grades 7-12 and less than 400 students. Some friends and I would hang out in an area near the kitchen door, so we'd chat with the cook. She was really great. I don't remember everything that was on the menu, but most days, she cooked from scratch. I do remember buying her spaghetti and meat sauce. The portions she gave were so huge, I asked for a half order. Because she liked me Eye-wink she gave me a very generous half order - so much so, the cashier didn't believe me at first when I said it was a half order! *L* I remember the cost of the food being very reasonable.

The one day she didn't cook from scratch was Pizza Pop friday. They went from an occaisional item to being the only regular weekly item because of the high demand. Along with what she cooked, we could buy little milk cartons, pop, fruit juice, cookies, yogurt, and a few other things I can no longer remember. I'm pretty sure there were salads available, but I don't remember well enough to say for sure. Being a bused in brown bagger that rarely liked what my mother packed for me (there were some strange combinations she put together *L*), I loved it. I was also introduced to foods I'd never tried before. The school also had a couple of vending machines for pop, chips and chocolate bars. During events, a little shop would open that sold more of the same. All junk food.

Things have really changed since then. The area has grown to the point that they had to build another school, and there's now a seperate Junior High. The school I went to is now Gr. 9-12, and the cafeteria was moved to a larger room. Looking at their website, though, there's still only 1 cook. I have no idea if they still serve food cooked on site.

Those with money could, and still can, head out during breaks and lunch hour to a nearby cafe, a couple of gas station convenience stores, a bakery, and even a couple of grocery stores. While our cafeteria food was head and shoulders better than what I'm seeing on these shows and sites, there was no shortage of junk food. I don't remember there being a lot of fat kids, but then by today's standards, a lot of kids I went to school with - including myself - would now be classified as fat that weren't at the time. As for physical fitness, I see there are a lot more programs and equipment available now then there were when I was a teen.

What passes for food in a lot of these school lunch programs is abhorent. It's a legitimate problem that needs to be dealt with. Lack of nutritional education is another issue that needs to be focused on. But banning junk food? Blaming them for the "child obesity epidemic?" I think that, by defining the issue as one of fatness or junk food, it's actually taking focus away from the real problems that can actually be dealt with, and are less likely to cause even larger problems in the process.

richie79's picture
April 6th, 2010 | Link | Debra, don't think for a

Debra, don't think for a moment that I'm railing against a wider choice of food in schools. I've no problem with dishing up salad next to the pizza and burgers, or for that matter with the pizza and burgers being made from high-quality ingredients. Unfortunately in too many cases now introducing 'healthier menu options' goes hand in hand with taking away the opportunity to make the 'unhealthy' choice, which if better quality ingredients were used wouldn't be the end of the world. It's this 'either / or' mentality we need to move beyond - trust the kids to make the choices they want and develop their palates (and relationships with food) in their own time and free from externally-imposed fears about weight and health.

Whilst I can see the issues with having kids turn up at school everyday with a lunchbox full of crisps, biscuits, chocolate and no actual substantive 'food' I think in the UK at least it's swung too much the other way. Our Government's 'National Healthy School Criteria' demand NO snack items (sweet or savoury) in a lunchbox, NO condiments or ketchup on the table, NO fizzy soda or sugary juice available anywhere on site, and restrictions on the amount of meat / 'white food' and all the rest. Primary (elementary) school children have had their lunchboxes confiscated, been placed in detention, made to write out lines or had letters sent home to their parents, all because their packed lunch contained a snack item (which can be something as 'innocent' as a full-fat yogurt or a Scotch egg) - someone please tell me how these sort of punishments are promoting a healthy relationship with food or respecting the authority of the parents in childrearing?

I also consider that maybe some of the problems with making children too conscious about their food (and by extension their weight, because parents and peers will equate the two even if the schools are careful to avoid it) can be minimised by simply switching the menu items (maybe gradually and over time) rather than announcing it with a big fanfare and trying to explain to the children the rationale behind it. Children tend to see things in black and white, hence the importance of avoiding good food / bad food distinctions when discussing diet with them. Again in the UK there are no such attempts being made; out of curiosity I watched sections of the 'Healthy Schools Weekend' on our Teachers' TV satellite channel which made my blood boil because they included shots of nine and ten year-olds discussing how better food would keep them 'slim and healthy' and stop them becoming overweight' when as far as I'm concerned kids of that age shouldn't be considering using food to control their size or have more than a rudimentary awareness of weight-loss culture and language.

From what I can gether there are big differences between the school food on offer in the UK and US. Ours has lurched from one extreme to the other in a very short space of time, and now it looks as though Jamie Oliver is trying to promote a similarly extremist approach in the US. I will agree that prior to his involvement school food provision had deteriorated to the extent that we spent less on feeding school children than prisoners and many school kitchens (like those at my own primary school) lay dusty and redundant following savage cuts to education budgets in the 1980s. On the other hand, his campaign has reduced complex discussions of food sources and funding to a simplistic condemnation of individual irresponsibility, and further stigmatised larger children and their parents. Whether because he actually hates fat people or because he knows that invoking the 'obesity epidemic' is more likely to generate publicity I don't know, but I can't support the positive outcomes of his crusade when the collateral cost has and will go on being so high - as Bree says, while there may or may not be an issue with the quality of food served in schools there's no need to throw fat people under the bus (again) to address something which if it is a concern should be of equal relevence to everyone.

"When people fear the government, there is tyranny; when government fears the people, there is liberty." - Thomas Jefferson

CarrieP's picture
April 6th, 2010 | Link | oh man! Taking the lunches

oh man! Taking the lunches away that kids have brought from home and/or imposing punishment on them for the contents of those lunches is total BULLSHIT! That makes my blood boil too. And you're totally right about how it would be better if they just phased in better food instead of marking the distinction with the kids. So much has been made in our culture of how you need to sneak healthy foods into your kids' meals at home, why does anyone think that it wouldn't be the same in a larger setting? Eating well won't succeed if it is uncomfortable for the kids and the easiest way to make it uncomfortable is to make a fuss. Great point!

worrier April 6th, 2010 | Link | One of the things that

One of the things that really gets to me about all this is that all these people hysterically hammering away about the "obesity epidemic" have convinced themselves that their hectoring is all about health and how they're "helping fat people". None of them show any sign of awareness that it's become a moral issue and that health has precious little to do with it. This complete lack of awareness actually scares me. I think the "obesity epidemic" has become more and more like "though shalt not suffer a fat person to live", but the perpetrators of the hysteria are so utterly convinced that they are helping and that their motives and interpretations of the matter are sacrosanct. It gives me an insight into what things must have been like during the witch trial era.

CastingPearls's picture
April 6th, 2010 | Link | Salads and fruit were not

Salads and fruit were not available for fat or thin students when I was in school. Emphasis was placed on whatever you could get as cheaply as possible and because my family qualified for free lunches I ate what was offered.

However, eating lunch in front of my classmates was something akin to a wounded chipmunk attempting to avert the vultures making lazy circles in the sky. Although beauty and a quick wit were on my side, I was outnumbered so in an effort to blend in, I ate tiny portions of what my tablemates were devouring.

I did NOT go home and closet eat or compensate, for the simple fact that my entire family was fat and food was relatively a non-issue. I was an active kid, rode my bike regularly, and walked a mile each way to and from school. Added to that, was my parents were of ethnic backgrounds where, although food was deeply intertwined with enjoyment, it was HEALTHY. The portions were only huge.

I don't use genetics as an excuse but I am a living example that it is definitely a factor.

Offer healthy food to all students. The approach thus far of the anti-obesity campaign alarms me as it may encourage targeting fat kids as individuals refusing to make healthy choices when the truth may be far more complicated.

I never heard of any child or adult desiring to be bullied or tortured for their appearance. If shame were a successful motivating factor, nobody would be fat.

Moody Blue's picture
Moody Blue
April 8th, 2010 | Link | The powers that be still

The powers that be still haven't described to my satisfaction exactly what they mean when they say "obese".
Is every child who carries an extra 10lbs considered obese by today's standards? Or is it 20lbs or 30???
I hate the term obese to begin with and now especially because it's being used to strike fear into our hearts. But I don't think a child who is chubby should forever be stuck with the "obese" label and made to feel that they're a freak or their death warrant is sealed because they carry extra weight.

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