Lunch law raises costs but leaves kids hungry

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By Dakota Miller, Staff Writer

Lunch at school has always been a sort of routine for me. Grab some milk, grab an entrée, maybe a few sides and pay for it. While I may not have been making the healthiest choices in the world, I had the right to choose a bag of chips or some french fries now and then.

However, with the new federal law fully in effect this year, the days of curly fries at Fairmont High School are growing smaller and smaller in number.

The Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010 officially came to fruition this year, with Fairmont’s cafeteria now requiring at least one fruit or vegetable with every meal for every student. Further requirements include more whole grains, very little in the way of fats and sugars, limited fat in milk and a limit on the amount of meat served per week – 12 ounces for a high school student.

While I do believe in a both healthy youth and a strong government, there comes a point when it gets a little too intrusive for me.

Granted, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say about 17 percent of American kids are obese and this is a major problem in America, but school lunch isn’t the right place to start – at least, not to this degree. The new law is causing smaller lunches that cost more, since whole grain breads and more variety in fruits and vegetables cost a lot more than fries or beef patties.

Some American teens have staged formal protests over the new requirements. Students in the Plum School District near Pittsburgh started a Twitter protest under the hashtag “#BrownBagginIt” to encourage students to pack their lunches instead of buying from the school. Students were angry about paying more for a less-filling lunch.

While Fairmont hasn’t changed as rapidly as Plum Schools – many options of food were already moving to healthier choices – the biggest problem now is the economics behind the change. Lunch prices can’t spike without parental protest, and these new choices are much more expensive than the pizzas or chicken sandwiches delivered to FHS.

And students who are forced to take these fruits and veggies aren’t forced to eat them – that’d be too blatant of a civil rights violation – and so they simply throw out these expensive side items.

Put quite simply, lunch isn’t the place to try to force health on people. Between the human nature to rebel and our own natural tendencies to maintain habits, it’s not likely that this law is going to do a whole lot of anything for anyone. There are a thousand and one other ways to make healthy lifestyles more fun for everyone – opportunities for more gym classes, more activity clubs and so forth. Providing the option for more healthy foods – but not forcing someone to take them every single day – could help, too.

With all of the new regulations, schools and students alike aren’t going to be too happy in the coming years. Perhaps Fairmont will accept these changes as they are and perhaps an enterprising student will choose to start his own Twitter revolution in the name of food freedom.

However, I propose a more effective way to effect changes in this well-intentioned but ineffective law: talk with the people who can change it.

I encourage Fairmont students to write letters and emails as well as make phone calls to their representatives and senators in Congress. In this economy, it might be good to tell them about the burden this is putting on everyone. Students are (ironically) hungry because of the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act, and schools aren’t going to keep up with these expenses.

Write a letter. After all, the pen is mightier than the tweet.

See The Flyer’s story on the new lunch law by clicking HERE.