Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Washington Post Readers Hate Feeding Poor Kids at School

By Ed Bruske
aka The Slow Cook

How much do Americans hate feeding poor children at school?

Along with a story about D.C. schools beginning a program to feed some 10,000 needy children dinner at school, The Washington Post today asked readers to respond to a poll on the question and nearly half--47 percent--said this is a BAD IDEA.

Why would schools spend money--some $5.7 million in this case--to feed hungry children who should be eating at home? these readers wanted to know.

If you were wondering whether racial stereotyping still had a pulse in the nation's capital, just peruse some of the comments to this story.

"Neither Michelle Rhee, nor different teachers are the answer to what ails DC public schools...what ails DC public schools are DC public school parents...and their malnourished, under-parented spawn...," fumed one reader.

"They might as well feed them dinner. And while they are at it, clothe them also," ranted a second. "The year will be 2050 and blacks will still be complaining about being held down and not being able to handle life's requirements without ongoing, permanent government welfare. It's the black circle of life."

"I think a better balanced article should have included how many of the kids have cell phones and those $100+ sneakers," snarled a third. "Having grown up on peanut butter sandwiches, I make choices as to what to spend my money on. If a person cannot afford to feed their child then maybe that person should not have become a parent."

Sentiments like these explain perfectly why the U.S. Senate, in approving a re-authorization of the Child Nutrition Act that fund school meals, could only find six additional cents to help support the perpetually underfunded school lunch. School food advocates--myself included--who would love nothing better than to see re-heated chicken nuggets and tater tots replaced with fresh food cooked from scratch, need to wise up to the fact that most Americans just don't care. They grow up in a junk food culture, and do not buy into the idea that children--least of all poor black children--should be eating better than everyone else.

In short, there is no political mandate for spending more money on school food. Maybe it's time for advocates of better school meals to take stock and adjust their message accordingly


  1. Vocal commenters do not necessarily share the same view as those who voted. You're making a fairly baseless assumption

  2. Ed:

    When I had my op-ed re: school food and student nutrition information published in the Houston Chronicle, many of the same sort of sentiments were expressed by online readers. Many seemed to regard school lunch as an unnecessary "hand out" and felt that parents whose children partake of it were somehow shirking their responsibilities.

    However, as the commenter above noted, I'm not sure we can extrapolate from the Wash Po comments to the public at large. (Only the most fired up take the time to respond, but they may be fired up from the fringe.)

    Also, I haven't followed the Congressional debate on the CNA as closely as I should have, but I wonder to what degree the failure to cough up more than 6 cents has to do with a perception that the public has hit "spending fatigue," with the financial bailouts, the cost of two wars, health care, etc.

    You may well be right in your conclusion but, as you can see, I don't want to believe you! :-)


  3. Sadly many people don't care about kids: they care about money. While money is certainly a factor (and a big one), Americans don't get to see the real face of poverty every day.

    My dad happens to be that kind of guy. He doesn't think he should "pay" for kids to eat better in school. I have talked to him and I have failed to fully convince him there is a need to change. However, I have moved him a little closer towards my thinking. Little by little.

    What we lack in America is creative thinkers. It's not a black and white issue (pun not intended). If the school food system got more paying customers (richer kids who currently pack), the shot in the arm of funds might be enough to sustain the system for all kids.

    Additionally, these people think $$ now without thinking about what happens if the kids get bad food. There is a cost associated with not changing the food for kids and it is a hidden one. Either you pay for good food now, or you pay for the enormous health care costs that await us (and which we already are struggling with after decades of processed food).

  4. Bettina, you're right: you shouldn't believe anything I wrote here.

    Mrs. Q, I regard it as my solemn duty to see the glass as half empty. That said, I urge everyone to carry on. Nothing will happen if we give up, yet I do believe in being realistic. So far, I don't believe the activists on our side have been exactly realistic, or necessarily very clear on what they're asking for.

  5. Ed -- I think that "solemn duty" you mention is one of the journalist/writer, no? You can't change who you are...nor should you.

    The school food reform movement is scattered and disorganized. We need to get everyone in one room, lock the door, order room service, and hammer this one out together. One cohesive, succinct message would be powerful.

  6. I agree. A school food summit is overdue.

  7. Let me put a voice to those who think it's a bad idea for reasons other than race.

    I'm not happy that my daughter's school is serving dinner, not because I don't think they should for children who need it. Rather, it's because I'd prefer her to eat dinner at home with her parents. Because such a significant number of students at the school are eligible for free meals, her school serves dinner (as well as breakfast, lunch and two snacks a day, all free) to every child who is still at the school (i.e. participates in aftercare) and wishes to have it. I'm astounded (not in a bad way, mind you) at the amount of food (mostly quite healthy food this year) is being presented to her every day.

    My daughter loves food and will happily eat when offered any opportunity, nevermind that Mom and Dad will have a delicious meal ready in an hour or so. And, if everyone else is eating and she's not allowed to, she will get very upset at being excluded. Unfortunately, the effect of this in our house is that she eats only a small portion of the dinner that I prepare and gets frustrated at having to sit through the meal.

    So, I would prefer for dinner options to be left up to the discretion of the parents.

  8. I agree completely with the goals of the program but personally, I have been wondering about the same things as OS&A. If they serve dinner at my 3yo's school - and I imagine they will - what will I do with him when he gets home? I don't love the idea of him in the living by himself while we eat, but am doubtful he'd sit at the table with us. OR he eats two dinners - he already eats two breakfasts some days. On a practical level I'm just not sure how it'll work for us.

  9. Ed and Mrs. Q -

    Couldn't agree more about the scattered nature of the current movement. I've had people from several quarters urge a big, visible protest, but when I say, OK, fine, but what's the one, clearly defined goal we're fighting for, I get everything from removing chocolate milk in lunch rooms to, literally, "fixing the food system."

    And, as others have noted elsewhere, some factions within the movement are completely at odds (vegans and organic livestock farmers, those who care about sustainability, and those who feel that the environment needs to take a back seat until the food is fixed, etc. etc.)

    If you ever do get that hotel room, Mrs. Q, let me know. But with this crowd, it's unlikely we could even agree what to order from room service.

    I think Ed's post and our subsequent conversation are important for anyone who cares about this issue. I'm going to repost on TLT tomorrow or Friday.


  10. I have to agree with Rachel and O,S and A, just because a child is in aftercare does not mean that the child should eat dinner at the school.
    I believe that the Family Meal is a Special time of day. And yes, it is a learning time as well.

    Unfortunately, yes some kids may need to eat 3 meals a day from a government run facility...so, why does this bring up images of an orphanage to me instead of a School System?
    "Please Sir, may I have some more..."

  11. And here is said post: http://www.thelunchtray.com/deep-breath-in-deep-breath-out-its-a-school-food-reform-free-day-on-tlt/