“Never underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups.” George Carlin
Last week, I inadvertently missed posting due to a sudden illness. While certainly not life threatening, pneumonia is a bitch of an illness that pretty much takes over one’s personal reality. Consequently, I missed, or rather, ignored from my hospital bed much of what was going on around me in the world of politics and the national government . Things impacted while I was gone. There were three mass shootings, memorials, and Trump grandstanding on an epic scale as he and the First Lady insinuated themselves on Dayton, Ohio and El Paso, Texas in what has come to be seen as one extended trumped up photo op. The optics say it all, as does, the reluctance of victims to be seen associating with the president and the First Lady.
Rather than try to bridge the chasm of a week’s worth of rehashed Trump fuck ups, I want to address one of my pet peeves as it applies to the American psyche and its effect on life as we know it.
Lunch Shaming Kids
This is a topic that most empathic, sane people would realize has a zero sum gain in the world American education or politics as a whole. In an article by the online newspaper Civil Eats, which explores the American food system on a daily basis, author Nadra Nittle begins her text with this statement,
Alabama elementary school stamps a child’s arm with the message: “I need lunch money.” A Minnesota school district warns graduating seniors that they will not receive caps and gowns unless their meal debt is paid. A New Hampshire cafeteria worker is fired for serving students with outstanding lunch bills.
Assuming for the moment that these students are not gaming the system, but genuinely do not have the wherewithal to pay for their meals, what profit is gained by shaming the children for their parents inability to pay the nominal charge for a school breakfast or lunch. As Nittle points out, school meals are often the only nourishment many of the children receive during the day. These are not hardened welfare individuals who have lived their entire lives on the public dole, but evolving young beings whose self worth and vision of themselves is fragile at best and exacerbated by a flood of peer pressure and fear of looking dumb or stupid. Who are these people who believe food shaming children is the most positive course of action?
Those of us who live in America away from major urban developments, especially in the eastern United States, have little idea of the circumstances that surround the thorny issue of eating, especially if you are a child. New York City’s Brooklyn/Bed-Stuy neighborhood is a case in point. Most Americans have a passing understanding of the concept of an inner city food desert which succinctly describes the area. Bed-Stuy is neither unique or unprecedented in the way food is presented to the masses. If you are a child, especially a latchkey child, who leaves school and returns home to an unsupervised environment, you have few options for a healthy meal if left to your own devices and the money to afford a purchase.
Fulton Street is the main street that runs east and west through Bed-Stuy. Along a six block section of the street, there are two chicken franchises, two McDonalds, a couple of pizza joints (or more), various Asian themed restaurants, a Burger King, an Applebee’s, and a large grown up food mart that serves the majority of households throughout the area. For most children, fast food is the most logical choice. There are no “7-11s” per se, only bodegas which are the ethnically oriented mom and pop stores that can be found on nearly every corner of the neighborhood. These establishments offer a variety of food options but tend to rotate around cold sandwiches and chips with the occasional hot soup offering in some places.
These circumstances are moot if mom and/or dad (mostly mom) don’t remember or don’t have the money to supply their children extra cash for dinner while they are still away at work. The lucky ones with a few pennies to spend, as they are wont to do, often do not make the wise choices when it comes to food and will spend their money on often less than nourishing options. The most popular hookup sites on Fulton Street anytime after 3pm are the fast food franchises’ parking lots. Fast food chains in inner city environments should be seen as predators who feed on these young people who are victims of their environment and little else.
Consequently, if you are a child lucky enough to receive a school meal, whether you can pay for it or not, the day just got a lot better. The idea that adults would want to shame anyone for eating a meal is simply unacceptable. As Nittle’s article reveals, many of the free or reduced priced lunch plans are federally subsidized and bypass state funding woes by supplying federal dollars. Still, the system is only as good as those who use it. Parents often don’t get involved in the programs or forget to reauthorize their children’s participation from one semester to the next. Illegal immigrants are often reluctant to fill out forms for programs like the free food initiative due to fear of being exposed, arrested, and deported.
But to shame the children for being hungry is unconscionable.
The acts of shaming that accompany lunch debt may be hard for children to shake, according to Bettina Elias Siegel, a Civil Eats contributor and author of the forthcoming book, “Kid Food: The Challenge of Feeding Children in a Highly Processed World.”
“Children are so aware of differences between kids — whether it’s socioeconomic, popularity, or whatever — that when you engage in any practice expressly meant to set them apart, kids feel that keenly,” Siegel said. “The stigma is real; it’s a really unfortunate tactic.”
She added that lunch shaming also exacerbates existing socioeconomic differences in school cafeterias in which more privileged students can buy a la carte items while their less privileged peers eat standard lunches. Civil Eats
Were it not for a small but concerned subset of the population, lunch shaming would be an epidemic right now. There is something fundamentally wrong with a society that cannot, or refuses to see, the problem here. The physic scars that shaming of any kind produce are indelible and debilitating. Demanding that school lunch programs act as stand alone business entities with no regard for the clientele (children) and their emotional and physical well-being reflects the worst that America has to offer the world. Under the age of Trump, this phenomenon can be understood all to well. Considering the cost of a single trip to Mar-a-Lago runs into the millions of dollars, that money might be better spent in shoring up a child’s daily nourishment, not spent on golf, glitz, and unholy glamour.