Battle lines?

Healthy food in cafeterias cause a debate.

By 
Paul King, Editor

Returning to the office after the Thanksgiving break, I found two news items regarding school foodservice that suggest the battle over healthy food in school cafeterias may intensify in the coming months.

In addition, both stories highlight basic student rights, including freedom of speech.

The first came from the Boston Globe, and involved suburban Medford High School. There, students using Facebook and Yahoo were urging their fellow students to boycott the school’s cafeteria this week “for multiple reasons, the greatest of which is the right to a safe and healthy lunch,” according to one student’s posting on a Yahoo chat forum.

Zac Bears, the junior leading the call for a boycott, insists that the district is serving food that is, at least, unsafe by federal standards. Bears claims the district is, for example, using meat “that [supermarkets] are not permitted to sell due to FDA restrictions,” according to the Globe.

Medford Schools Superintendent Roy Belson told the Globe that school lunches are healthy and safe, adding that the district takes more precautions than do commercial markets when it comes to preparing and serving food.

Belson also suggested to the Globe that Bears may face repercussions for his postings. “That’s like saying there’s a bomb in the high school,” the Globe quoted Belson regarding the student’s allegations of unsafe food.

The second news story, from Rockingham County, N.C., hit the other extreme. There, two middle school students were suspended because their parents brought them lunch from a local fast food restaurant. The school district claimed that the students and their parents violated a district rule that prohibits bringing in food from the outside because it “competes with child nutrition standards,” according to an article on the WTVD-TV Web site.

The article quoted the father as saying “They can’t tell you what to bring your kid,” and noted that his child’s suspension later was wiped from her record.

Two interesting stories that will bear watching, I suspect. On the one hand you have students who don’t believe the food they are being served in school is healthy enough butting heads with an administration that believes the food is satisfactory and the students are engaging in potentially dangerous activity. On the other you have an administration telling students and parents what they can bring into school.

Based on the limited information I’ve been able to glean, I’m on the side of the students in both cases. In the Medford incident, students are asking that their concerns about the quality of school meals be taken seriously. In North Carolina, the issue is how much control the school district can exercise over what students eat. (Do administrators scrutinize the lunches students bring from home—and do they even have that right?)

I’ll keep you posted on how these stories develop, and I’d love your input as well.