SHOULD SCHOOL LUNCH BE FREE?

by Ariel Sheinberg

For most students, lunch is simply a break between classes, and a time to chat with friends, relax and recharge.

However, this isn’t the case for everyone. In fact, there are hundreds of thousands of children across the country who cannot afford to buy school lunch. At Southview Middle School in Ankeny, Iowa, teachers were alarmed to see many students not eating at lunchtime. The teachers later found out that the students could not eat as a result of their parents’ inability to put money into their children’s lunch accounts. According to the Des Moines Register, this group of teachers was able to raise upwards of $1,500, which went towards supporting students’ lunch accounts so that they could buy lunch again. Should charity like this be necessary though? Do teachers really need to spend their time and money making sure their students’  learning isn’t hindered by empty stomachs? Or, should school lunches just be free?

Many parents, teachers, and even politicians say that yes, school lunch should be free of charge. Firstly, students who are denied lunch are often ridiculed and humiliated. Some schools give students without lunch small, cold meals that are often of poor quality. Other schools give students who cannot afford lunch hand stamps that show the cafeteria not to serve these children hot food. In 2017, a bill known as The Anti Lunch Shaming Act was introduced in the House of Representatives. If passed, this act would ban the shaming of students, including all offenses previously mentioned.

Learning and working on an empty stomach is extremely difficult. We’ve all thought to ourselves the period before lunch, “I am so hungry,” “I don’t think I can wait to eat any longer.” However, imagine not having that food to look forward to, and in turn, staying hungry for the rest of the day. School is six to seven hours of the day, and it is necessary for students to eat in the middle of all the chaos. How can you focus on passing classes if your body is telling you to focus on eating?

With that being said, there are individuals against free school lunches. Many say that paying for everyone’s lunch is too expensive and that it would be too difficult to make room for these costs in school budgets, inevitably hurting taxpayers. Secondly, feeding children is not a burden that schools should have to take on. If the purpose of school is to provide the best education to the next generation, why distract from that? If more budget money is spent to provide children with lunch, would the quality of education have to decrease? There is also the concern of dietary restrictions. In free school lunch programs, the school provides everyone, regardless of their allergies or religious restrictions, with the same meal – of course, only that which they have. Tending to all these different preferences and guidelines would be simply too expensive.

According to “No Kid Hungry,” in the United States, 1 in every 6 children faces hunger, and over 13 million children live in “food insecurity,” meaning that they may not know when their next meal will be. Government-run child nutrition campaigns, such as those that provide free student breakfast and lunch, are greatly relied on by these children. These programs make all the difference in their everyday lives. Whether you are for or against free school lunch, you must admit that child hunger in America is a prevailing issue. For some, free school lunch is their only meal of the day. If not free school lunch, what actions can we take to ensure that students are eating enough to lead happy and healthy lives?