5 Absurd Things American Schools Do To Completely Ruin Lunch
With the exception of those of us raised by wolves, everyone's familiar with the human rights violations known as school lunches (wolf school lunches are great). American school cafeterias are the stuff of nightmares, with the quality of their food lying somewhere in the range of "underfunded prison sponsored by McDonald's." But while we might think schools simply aren't allowed to serve anything but undetermined bird nuggets and cardboard cutouts of fries, there are myriad dumb reasons these lunches blow as much as they do.
Schools Pay Companies To Suck The Nutrition Out Of Food
For over 70 years, the National School Lunch Program has given surplus agriculture to schools for their school lunches. It's much better PR than throwing tons of fresh food into a ditch and setting it on fire. Public schools around the country can fill their larders with all the fresh fruit, vegetables, and chicken they need. So why is the closest thing you find to fresh produce in a school cafeteria the bubblegum in the lunch lady's mouth? Because schools are paying food companies to take their fresh, healthy ingredients and turn them into complete shit.
Schools get about $1 billion in free food each year, and $445 million of it goes straight into the pockets of companies like Aramark and Sodexo, which turn that food into "food." Fresh chicken gets turned into chicken nuggets, cheese and tomatoes get turned into frozen pizza, potatoes become french fries, and peas somehow end up with fingers in them. Why do schools do this? The answer, as always, is money. Schools figure that they can save by not maintaining proper kitchens or kitchen staff, a clever lifehack someone should really tell restaurants about.
But as it turns out, schools just end up spending more on fees and food processing in response. Schools spend about three times their free food's value in turning it into sludge. A batch of fresh chicken worth $11.40 costs $33.45 to become nuggets. $5.95 of raw potatoes costs $14.75 for the McDonald's treatment. That cost doesn't just come in dollars, but also in IQ points, as some studies are linking lower tests scores to students having to eat junk that "exceed[s] the standards for fat, saturated fat and sodium." Ironically, our students are slowly turning into dumb donut holes because school administrators are bad at math.
Maybe the kids should be taught by the private food management companies instead, as they are making money hand over fist. They save by not having to hire skilled kitchen labor, and they also get convenient kickbacks from the food processing companies, which the schools don't see a dollar of. So the next time your child gets winded walking from the bus to the school's front door, at least you know their inevitable heart attack paid for some CEO's weekday yacht.
This stock model kid is smiling because this photo shoot is the first time he's ever seen fresh fruits and vegetables in a cafeteria.
Kids Are Publicly Shamed For Not Paying Lunch Bills
A lot of kids have to read The Scarlet Letter in school. It's a gripping story of America's barbaric past, when people in power used public shaming to punish and degrade the less-fortune. The book teaches kids a valuable lesson: namely, what will happen to them if they ever run out of lunch money.
In 2016, a public school in Gardendale, Alabama stamped the words "I Need Lunch Money" on a child's arm because of an unpaid bill -- adding a smiley face, because the words alone didn't convey the "Fuck you" well enough. It's only a matter of time before the school starts weighing the cost-effectiveness of making these children wear shirts saying "I am a poor, hate me" as a uniform.
"Actually, we don't have the budget for shirts. Just talk to that kid who's in detention for doing the ballpoint pen tattoos."
Gardendale is far from the only school district to turn lunch into a Philip K. Dickian nightmare, however. Plenty of states, like Pennsylvania and Utah, will take hot food from children unable to pay and throw it in the trash. They could feed another child with it, but it was served to a commie freeloader, so that food has lost all of its capitalist nutrients. Other children get threatened with "The Sandwich," which sounds like a humiliating frat initiation but is in fact two pieces of cold bread with maybe something cheap in between, easily marking out these hungry unfortunates for efficient bullying. Administrators do assure that The Sandwich meets the minimum federal requirements -- because when it comes to human decency, some schools gladly settle for being D students.
The Department of Agriculture is trying to get states to cut these practices out, on the basis of America still pretending it isn't a dystopia, but they're ultimately leaving the burden up to the states. So far, only New Mexico has tried to ban lunch money shaming entirely, reducing the amount of school-based shaming statewide by a full 6 percent. For everyone else, though, we can do nothing but hope that The Sandwich doesn't eventually devolve into The Bowl of Gruel, which students have to work off in the textile mill after class.
We Watch What Kids Eat Instead Of How Much
In the age of Cheeto supremacy, it came as no surprise when the government declared it was rolling back Michelle Obama's healthy eating initiatives. If you're worried that this will undo years of healthy living for our youngest and brightest, then we have some good news: They weren't eating healthily when the guidelines were in place either.
Under the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2012, school lunches were required to comply with a number of health guidelines, such as 100 percent whole grains, more fruits and vegetables, and greatly reduced sodium -- and kids have been throwing that gross shit right into the trash. The guidelines mandate that food remain healthy, but the food processing companies are not bothering to make their healthy food taste good at all (they're getting paid either way). The result is that school kids are throwing these healthy, somewhat bland lunches out and bringing their own meals -- if you can call "a bag of Doritos, a Go-Gurt, and a two-liter of Coke" as a meal. And if you do, then stop playing Overwatch for 20 minutes and go learn how to boil some pasta.
Maybe we should look at what other, slimmer countries are doing. Look at France, which has the lowest child obesity rate in Europe. What are they feeding their kids for lunch? A four-course feast fit for a king, it turns out:
1) Cucumber salad with vinaigrette
2) Salmon lasagna with spinach
3) Baguette and fondue
4) Fruit compote (or, once a week, chocolate cake)
And you better believe that food has plenty of refined grains, fat, sodium, and other life-shortening things that make us feel some semblance of happiness when we're eating. So again, how come French kids are thinner and healthier than what we're rolling into classrooms? It's because in France, they eat less food in general, like every other country that isn't the United States. Children are taught to eat in moderation, and are given foods that keep them from snacking in between meals. In addition, French students can get up to two hours to eat their lunches, giving them enough time to enjoy and digest their food while also taking several breaks to look wistfully out of a window in black and white.
Along with the traditional post-lunch wine and cigarette.
Which brings us to another point ...
We're Not Giving Kids Enough Time To Eat Properly
For working people, a lunch break can range anywhere from a solid 30-minute factory break to a three-hour liquid business lunch. But when you're a busy, highfalutin adult, there's often only enough time to half-eat some junk while running out of the door. Sorry, did we say adult? We meant to say 10-year-old child being rushed out of the cafeteria before they even got the chance to open their pudding cup.
A 2015 study from the Harvard School of Public Health found that if kids have 20 minutes or fewer to eat lunch, they end up eating 13 percent less of their entree, 12 percent less of their vegetables, and drinking 10 percent less milk. If that seems like an unreasonably short amount of time for lunch, you'll be quite alarmed to learn that 20 minutes are quickly becoming the average. In some schools, lunch periods can be as short as 15 minutes, as lunch hours get cut in favor of more classroom time. After all, we can't be worrying about our children's physical health when they need to study for standardized tests in order to win a dick-measuring contest with a dead superpower.
Coincidentally, these are also the letters of the vitamins kids aren't getting enough of in their shortened meals.
When schools look for ways to improve test scores, instead of doing the smart thing and funding arts education, they end up cutting time from other places like lunch instead. This leaves kids with less time to eat the food they need in order to grow properly, hitting kids from low-income families (who rely on school lunches for half their food intake) the hardest.
But it's more than the lack of calories that will hurt students in the long run. Unsurprisingly, kids not only learn math, English, and social Darwinism in school, but also their future eating habits. Eating faster can lead to health issues like weight gain, poor nutrition, and other digestive problems like heartburn. Lunchroom rush can easily turn into a lifelong maladjustment which will follow them into college, where they will lose the battle against obesity while cramming entire bowls of Chipotle guacamole down their throats at a time.
Sending them down a path which will also end up affecting their possibility of home ownership, apparently.
Whether It's Healthy Food Or Junk, Schools Don't Have Enough Money For Either
School lunches are definitely in dire need of more charity, care, consideration, and cleaning products, but in the end, it all comes down to cash. The government has never properly funded the National School Lunch Program, but they're more than happy to tack on plenty of new, more expensive rules that schools have to follow.
In 2010, Obama proposed a $10 billion increase in funding. Congress cut that in almost half, giving children only six more cents per meal. So at the height of the program, even well-funded cities like San Francisco only got $2.74 per student, which can't even buy you a good meal from McDonald's.
Though, to be fair, no amount of money can do that.
As a result, schools are feeding kids the cheapest food they can find -- usually chicken fingers and fries. These meals don't come close to meeting health guidelines. A 2009 study found that a whopping zero schools stayed under national sodium requirements, for example. The end result is that students who eat school lunches are more likely to gain weight than their brown-bagging peers, setting themselves up for a lifetime of fast food and mobility scooters. It also doesn't help school budgets that the government requires that students of families under a certain income be given free meals, but don't fully reimburse said meals, meaning schools have to pay for it, as always, out of the art teacher's salary.
And in case you were still hoping the Obama-era health guidelines would save the day: Those regulations were leaving schools with even less money than before. When the rules took effect, 70 percent of schools ended up taking a "significant financial hit," as students simply didn't want to pay money for food that prolonged their lives but tasted like cardboard. The year after the regulations began, Detroit's public school system lost a full million dollars in revenue. We're basically in a no-win situation; either schools lose money on unhealthy school lunches which make students fat, or they lose even more money offering healthy lunches students refuse to pay for ... instead buying snacks which make them fat. It's almost as if the real problem isn't with schools, but with Americans having this toxic relationship with food wherein many would rather have to be buried in a piano crate than eat the occasional zucchini.
"... Better, but still, no."
And who knows how to solve that problem, right? We're all idiots who have no idea what we're doing. Maybe it's because we didn't get good school lunches when we were kids ...
For more reasons public schools are depressing, check out 5 Reasons You Hated School (That You Were Right About) and 6 God-Awful Ways Real Schools Tried To Save Money.
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