It’s Time for Collective Action against Lunch Shaming

 

United States capitalists have substantial assets allocated to invading and bombing the indefensible world, and, with the remainder of their wealth, acquiesce and enable the capitalist system – a system that leaves those of us not in the 1% in a continual cycle of poverty and debt. These capitalists never have to purchase groceries for themselves but even they should be able to admit that the nation is not functioning well when children are going to bed with hunger pains because they are unable to afford lunch at school.

Our elected leaders make the situation worse with low-income hungry students no longer being able to access food at school. But where are the protests for staving low-income children? We have become so numb to the horrors of this administration that we are incapable of confronting the many ills stateside, such as but not limited to, starving and humiliating our children.  The United States has developed a detached, passive stance on its own future. Rest assured that none of this is normal.

Children are exposed to so much cruelty in this world and school is supposed to be a safe haven. Kids, especially ones from low-income households, have varying degrees of stress at home and it is wrong for them to go to school ravenous and to be isolated at lunch for their low-income status. Living in these uncertain, unsettled times, it is increasingly harder to know what unparalleled, groundbreaking dystopian item to agonize over. But I will say this, and shout it from the rooftops at our Fox and Friends watching leader: it takes an utterly reprehensible, corrupt degenerate to not properly fund school lunches.

Recent news articles have exposed an epidemic of school lunch shaming of low-income students across the nation. While some low-income students can’t afford their $2.35 lunch are offered a brown paper sack with a “cold cheese sandwich and a small milk,” CNN also reports that “some schools take away” low-income students’ lunch entirely, leaving these students to starve throughout the school day. In some cases, like that of Caitlin Dolan from Canonsburg, PA, her hot lunch was taken away and thrown in the trash can in front of her because her free-lunch paperwork got mixed-up, leaving Caitlin’s mom with a lunch balance she was unable to pay for. Students are not only being denied food in U.S. schools, but are being humiliated because of their income levels and their starvation is being used as a spectacle for their fellow students, teachers, administrators, and school staff.

Study after study shows that students who are hungry have not only a harder time learning, but suffer socially as well. These children have lower math scores, are more likely to repeat a grade, are more likely to be tardy, and are more likely to skip school all together.

Students from low-income backgrounds are often hungry before school even begins. But eating breakfast at school enhances performance as well as satiates student hunger. Studies published in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, The International Journal of Food Science and Nutrition, and The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition shows that feeding students is one of the best ways we know of to increase student performance. Students who participate in school breakfast programs also have better attendance records and decreased behavioral and psychological problems. Schools themselves report offering free breakfast improves behavior and increases attentiveness.

Children living in poverty and being a victim of an act such as lunch shaming can reinforce feelings of worthlessness and increase feelings of panic and despair in their already high-stress young lives. Chronic stress can delay or reverse a child’s cognitive development and can lead to serious mental and physical health issues.

Constant stress, according to a study conducted at Harvard’s Center on the Developing Child, can effect a child’s brain development and these stressors are “frequent, or prolonged adverse experiences such as extreme poverty or repeated abuse are experienced without adult support.” If these students view schools as places of abuse, they will lose trust in a critical support system that is meant to help shield them from abuse. If these students live in a high-stress environment, with parents who aren’t there, with abusive parents, or are abused by the very system that is supposed to be in place to teach life-skills and protect the student, that child may never learn to develop empathetic skills or know what a world without shame and abuse looks like.

The Harvard research study concludes that one of the best ways of helping students develop empathy and to develop coping skills for a stressful world is through having a supportive, trusting relationship with an adult in their life. If low-income students are unable to form this relationship at home and are being targeting for their low-income status and humiliated for it at school, how are these students to form such relationships with the adults in their lives when they are given no safe space to do so?

We need to face it: it’s 2018 and we, as a nation, have failed to rectify a major health and behavioral problem facing our youth. Hunger shouldn’t be something any child has to face. But this administration seems to be determined to make sure poor families go hungry not just at school, but at home with the introduction of work requirements for people receiving SNAP benefits. As (a surprising source) the Wall Street Journal points out, not only have work requirements for SNAP beneficiaries been introduced in the past, but these measures have failed because the problem isn’t that people don’t want to work who receive aid – it’s that they either can’t or are unable to find long-term employment due to either medical issues or our plain old awful job market.

Child hunger is not a side effect nor a symptom of something wrong with capitalism: this is how a capitalist nation works. Capitalism is an unethical, immoral system that depends upon a distracted, subjugated, and, in this case, hungry population to continue to exploit. While our fearless leader Tweets threats at other nations he’ll never follow through on (and hopefully they won’t follow through on either), our population is distracted and outraged at a distraction instead of the hunger students are facing at home and at school.

The only path through the madness the administration and the capitalist system subjects us all to is by building solidarity and harnessing the power of community.

Look up who your congressional representative is or call or email your senator and tell them to push for more free lunch programs – or universal free lunches and breakfasts for all students. Let them know what you think of childhood hunger and ask that they read some of the studies linked in this article before they dare vote down another program that helps feed children in schools.

You can also ask schools in your district to take advantage of the federal child nutrition programs, including the National School Breakfast and the National School Lunch programs.

If all else fails, and you have the means, you can ask the school if you can donate to the school to specifically cover the costs of school lunches for students who cannot afford them and are not allowed to eat in schools.

And, remember, that in our socialist tomorrow, this is what we are fighting for: that we will never let a child starve in this or any nation.

 

Jennifer Rampollo is a member of the National Action Committee and an active at-large member from Florida

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