Archive for May 8th, 2017

Service of Humiliating, Harmful Strategies to Get Paid: Lunch Shaming

Monday, May 8th, 2017

Photo: canadianfamily.ca

Photo: canadianfamily.ca

The headline alone of Bettina Elias Siegel’s article in The New York Times, “Shaming Children So Parents Will Pay the School Lunch Bill,” is enough to sink hearts and for readers to scream: “What are they thinking?” To embarrass a child in front of others for something they have done is horror enough but to do this over something over which the young one has no control is unthinkable. Adding injury to insult is that it involves an essential life-sustaining activity, eating, and it is fomented by school administrators who, of all people, should know better. Further, there’s a huge element of waste involved.

I wrote about school lunches four years ago in a different context: Service of Equality: Free School Breakfast, Lunch and iPads.” In that post I wanted NYC to pay for breakfast and lunch for the children whose parents couldn’t afford to buy them but thought that giving free iPads was a bit much when there are viable, far less expensive tablet options.

Recently Siegel wrote: “On the first day of seventh grade last fall, Caitlin Dolan lined up for lunch at her school in Canonsburg, Pa. But when the cashier discovered she had an unpaid food bill from last year, the tray of pizza, cucumber slices, an apple and chocolate milk was thrown in the trash.”

What’s the strategy here: It’s better to toss good food than give it to a hungry child? That’ll teach a parent who isn’t there who may not have the money to pay in the first place.

Photo: thebalance.com

Photo: thebalance.com

News in the rest of the article doesn’t get much better. Siegel further described “lunch shaming,” as the nasty approach is called. “The practice is widespread — a 2014 report from the Department of Agriculture found that nearly half of all districts used some form of shaming to compel parents to pay bills. (About 45 percent withheld the hot meal and gave a cold sandwich, while 3 percent denied food entirely.)” Instead of a real lunch some are given two pieces of bread with a thin slice of cheese.

Photo: money.usnews.com

Photo: money.usnews.com

Siegel described a cafeteria worker in Pa. who quit when forced to take away a child’s lunch. A child in Alabama went home with a stamp on her arm: “I need lunch money.”

There’s no free lunch and there’s the lunch bill to pay. What to do? Some qualify for a federal free meal program though others are afraid to apply because of their immigration status. Communities ask for “random acts of kindness” and organize fundraisers and GoFundMe pages. A Texas-based 4th grade mentor, Kenny Thompson, paid the bill when he saw the lunch lady refuse food to a child whose mother, he knew, was in the hospital. Next he founded “Feed the Future Forward,” and through fundraising events and donations hopes to wipe out over $50,000 in debt. To qualify for the refund money, however, Thompson makes schools sign a pledge that they won’t give children with unpaid bills a meal different from the other kids.

Lunch shaming is nothing new. Siegel quoted a mother whose son won’t eat peanut butter as the result of an incident two decades ago. How did it catch on and why do communities permit it? What gets into the minds of administrators who lose sight of their clients—children—when addressing a problem? How can parents permit such cruelty in a place they entrust their children?

Feed the Future Forward

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