Monday, August 30, 2010

Food for Thought

In our increasingly technological economy, you might think that educators and parents would like to see increased emphasis on science and mathematics in our public schools. But, according to an OpEd article in Saturday's Chronicle, this is not the most important issue facing the Houston Independent School District (HISD). Instead, HISD should be teaching students about making better food choices.

Responding to changes in the lunches offered at HISD, Bettina Elias Siegel argues that the school district isn't doing enough. Offering healthier choices is good, but until HISD educates students about the benefits of bok choy and acorn squash, the city's youth will continue to make poor dietary choices.
Introducing something like acorn squash or steamed spinach to this population - especially in a system in which students (under USDA regulations) are perfectly free to refuse two out of five items offered at lunch - is a virtual guarantee that such items will end up in the trash. 
Apparently, Siegel believes that it is more important for students to learn the benefits of spinach versus the benefits of algebra. Even this isn't sufficient, because many of the "better" foods are not going to be offered to all students.
But while HISD has laudably followed the recommendations of the PAC to start developing similar entrees (including wraps, rice bowls, stir fries and curries), the district has also indicated that for financial reasons such new foods might only be available on the "a la carte" line - that is, to paying students only. Because almost 80 percent of HISD students qualify for free and reduced lunch, this would create an inequitable system of "haves" and "have nots" where only students with money in their pockets can access the new, more healthful items.
Siegel, who has two children in HISD, isn't content that better dietary choices will be available. That such choices won't be available to children being fed by taxpayers is wrong. Why should those paying for their own lunch have a choice that is denied to those who aren't?

As with all public institutions, our educational system has become a battle ground over competing special interests. While some demand that students actually be taught to read and write, others are more concerned with what is served in the cafeteria. While some want their children to be prepared to become functional, productive individuals, others want to make sure that they get enough fiber.

In the end, public schools must try to find a compromise between these competing interests. The inevitable result is that students are served unhealthy food in both the classroom and the lunch room. Pizza and chicken nuggets might not be healthy for their bodies, but according to parents like Siegel, the ideas that fuel their minds are of less significance.


Neal Meyer said...


No arguments from here, about local government schools becoming a battle ground for interest groups.

It will be that way forever, or as long as we have taxpayer funding for government schools.

Brian Phillips said...

I agree. The sad part is, they are now openly more concerned about issues other than the quality of education.

Bettina Siegel said...

My reply: