Any e-mail tip from Ali Velshi tends to be the most interesting thing in my inbox, and today was no exception. As he'll be discussing on today's CNN Newsroom, Monica Eng and Joel Hood of the Chicago Tribune report that a school on the city's West Side is prohibiting its students from bringing home-prepared lunches to school, unless they have a medical excuse or an allergy.
Instead, the children at Little Village Academy, must either purchase lunch from the school's cafeteria, or opt to skip lunch entirely. Unsurprisingly, students and parents alike are unhappy with the blanket policy, and are speaking out.
But Principal Elsa Carmona stands by the ban she set six years ago after seeing students pack "bottles of soda and flaming hot chips" for school field trips. Carmont touts the health benefits of the cafeteria's offerings - especially after the Chicago school system tightened its nutritional standards last year to include a greater offering of fiber, whole grains, more dark green and orange vegetables and reduce fat and sugar content.
The Chicago public school systems serves approximately 280,000 lunches every day - 86 percent of those to students who qualify for free or reduced lunches. Students who do not qualify for that must pay $2.25 - which parents argue can easily exceed the cost of a homemade meal. As it happens, the school's caterer Chartwells-Thompson, not the district, receives a set fee for each lunch served.
As I told Ali, I believe that while the administration seemingly has its heart in the right place, believing that children should be eating healthy foods, it rankles me deeply that the policy is mandatory. While not all parents make great decisions - and many cannot afford to purchase more nutritionally sound foods - the options should remain fully in their hands. These same systems should instead strive to subsidize better options.
Once I build my personal utopian society, vegetables will cost $.03 at most and items containing high fructose corn syrup, mechanically separated chicken and "cheese food" will be $12.99 apiece. But until then, tell Ali and me what you think.
More on the politics of school lunch