Monday, June 15, 2009

Thoughtful elementary students ignored in quest for healthier cafeteria.

This is not a happy story.

So roughly two weeks ago I received a series of emails from kids in a Canadian elementary school. The emails were sent to Health Canada as well as their school trustee, local papers and television as well as me (thanks kids!). The emails were quite straightforward.

You see the kids were concerned that the food being sold to them in their school cafeteria did not reflect the food they were taught to eat in class.

Here's a sampling of some of their concerns,

"I think that it is not fair that you guys talk about healthy things and then you put junk food in our school's cafeteria. There is no healthy food in our cafeteria, but only deep fried garbage food."

"We learned form our classes that we should not eat junk food too often, but I have to eat from the cafeteria because my mother works too much and has no time to cook for me. So, I want healthy foods served to me in my school."

"I don't find it sensible to learn repetitively in science and phys.ed class about healthy food choices and be served the exact opposite in our school cafeterias."

"I do not want to have angina or a heart attack in my early 20s because of the junk food in my school cafeteria. I do not have a variety to choose from. Many of this foods that are being served in my school's cafeteria are extremely unhealthy for us, so I want better and healthier choices in our cafeteria."

"We had study in our science textbook that we have to eat healthy, but our school cafeteria sells junk food to us. So what's the point for studying health and eat heathy, when the bell rings and all we can buy is unhealthy food?"

"I would REALLY appreciate if the cafeterias stops selling fried food, and sell some more healthy food like salad, which can actually HELP us grow, not destroy us."

"My school cafeteria and food dispenser machines offer DEEP FRIED French fries, baked pizza, DEEP FRIED burgers, DEEP FRIED potato chips, DEEP FRIED apple pies, DEEP FRIED beef patties, candy, cookies, muffins, and sodas. Help us help ourselves. What can you do for us? Is there any hope to see healthy food in schools?"
Great stuff right? Very valid concerns by real kids facing a real problem.

So what did the school do to these young activists? I was curious myself so I decided to follow up with the kids and ask them what happened.

Apparently the kids were given a private lecture where they were chastised, intimidated and shamed for what they'd done. They were told they were irresponsible for sending letters outside of the school; that their letters might cause the folks in the cafeteria to lose their jobs; and they were told that what they did was wrong. Here's one kid's words,
"We were reprimanded, even though they told us that we weren't in trouble. They were just "disappointed and upset" because we had not told them about this. We were very intimidated, and felt like we were being looked down upon, for having our opinions."
How sad is that? As if the school itself doesn't know what it's serving. Clearly the school was aware of what was being served and had they themselves cared the students would have already had healthy fare to choose from. And what kind of a lesson did the school just teach them - that they shouldn't question authority? That they shouldn't stand up for the causes they believe in?

School cafeterias certainly need to change, hopefully there will be more students like these elementary students who are willing to stand up and demand good nutrition.

Shame on everyone who gave those kids a hard time. As educators, you should know better. You not only owe those kids a healthy cafeteria, you owe them an apology.