School lunches

By: Elicenda Garza

10/02/2019

I’m sure everyone has heard “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day” at least once in their lifetime. Whether they agree, or not, is a different matter, but I think we can all agree on the fact that food is important. We need food for our brains and bodies to properly function throughout the day. We need food that’s high in nutrients and vitamins, the sufficient amount. And honestly, we all prefer good tasting food, right? All that being said, you would expect for places like schools to meet these criteria right? Or at least some. Well, you’re in for a real treat.

For as long as I can remember I’ve hated school lunches. If my mom didn’t pack me a lunch for that day, I would be left pouting with a rumbling stomach. I've never really been the picky type but something about those school lunches always kind of grossed me out. 

As I grew up and progressed through middle school, I noticed I wasn’t the only one. Dozens of people would skip the line for lunch, just to go and buy something from the vending machine until one day...tragedy hit. We received the news that Michelle Obama created a new public health campaign. With this campaign, a child nutrition reauthorization bill was passed that shut down school vending machines all around the country. Her aim was to reduce childhood obesity and encourage a healthy lifestyle in children, which is pretty noble, but it didn’t do too well in action. Kids were now being forced to pick a fruit or vegetable, that they didn’t even want, to go with each tray of mystery food. The mystery food didn’t even appear to be nutritious in any way, shape, or form--a lot of times it was grilled cheese in a bag, or maybe fried chicken. It always looked either too dry, or too wet. There was either not enough seasoning, or way too much. Not enough color, or a mix of unappealing colors that portrayed vomit. And don’t even ask me about if the food was ever expired--cause then I’d have to tell you it was. Often. I can assure you that at least half of it was wasted and thrown out every day. Now, I’m not being ungrateful, I understand that any food is better than no food, but if officials see that kids aren’t responding well to their meal plans, why can’t they just ask students what they’d’ enjoy? Why are kids being left hungry, or to eat junk food throughout the day? That doesn’t seem to encourage healthy eating at all.

When we would receive favorable lunches, like pizza once a week, there would never be enough. One slice per kid seemed pretty normal to the district, but I’m sure anybody with common sense knows a growing human definitely eats more than one slice of pizza, especially throughout an eight-hour period. Since the food wasn’t good enough, or enough in general, students at my school decided to start making and bringing our own lunches. Now, this may seem fair to you all, don’t most kids bring lunches anyways? The fact is that bringing a lunch to school is a privilege that most Detroit students don’t have, because almost half of Detroit’s children live in poverty. So, the kids who could stomach the lunch would eat the mystery food while the others would either have to stay hungry or provide themselves something to eat.

By the time I got to the seventh grade, some district-wide problems must’ve occurred, because our teachers told us they were authorized by the district to either 1. throw away our outside food, 2. Give us the option of picking it back up after school or 3. making us eat at the entrance or in the office. Kids were no longer allowed to eat homemade meals during lunch at my school; in other words, we weren’t eating at lunch. Lunch began to be “talking time” or “nap time” for students instead of time to eat. 

Since lunch was then talking time, students began to associate with one another more. Kids coming from different schools would share their experiences with their new classmates, and we weren’t too happy with what we learned. Eventually, word got around that schools in the suburbs had good lunches; I’m talking spaghetti, pizza from an actual pizza chain, mini sandwiches like those from Jimmy Johns, and the high schools there even had the option of buying chips, pop, or ice cream. We were furious. We were all young then though, so we didn’t do much but complain, and that got us nowhere.

But then, high school came. And lunches seemed to somehow have gotten even worse. Now we have the option to buy chips, and cookies, but only on certain days-- basically whenever the staff feels like it, but it’s still something. We still can’t bring in outside food at the high school I attended, although that rule isn’t enforced consistently among the district. We were promised Domino's pizza every Friday, but we only received it about 3 Fridays throughout the whole school year. And the food is still flavorless and bland. It got so bad that one day, we had “chicken wings” that barely had any meat and didn’t look like chicken. It was so bad that some students actually posted their lunches on Facebook, and even went as far as to tag the fbi and Detroit police, asking for some help and demanding a change.

And honestly, it is time for change. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard someone in class complain about their hunger. Or how many times I’ve witnessed a classmate skip a period to go eat out.  How many times disagreements or actual physical fights have broken out over chips and cookies. I have literally witnessed all of these things happen. I think that if the district surveyed students to find out what they would actually enjoy eating and adjusted the meals to fit that, our schools would be a much better, and healthier, place. Attendance would be better, kids would be able to focus on the work and not their hunger, and the moods of students would just be better in general. Good food goes a long way.  

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