Reducing Stigma from School Lunch Participation (AB 1781)
While the National School Lunch program requires that all public schools in California must make a free or reduced price nutritious meal available to qualifying students, there is no requirement that these meals be available in all food service lines. Because some lines offer only à la carte items (foods-including chips and candy-sold outside of the federally reimbursed school meal programs), many students must go elsewhere for their food, which may inadvertently identify them as low-income. To avoid this stigma, many low-income students opt to purchase the less healthy à la carte items, or go without a meal altogether. AB1781 would ensure that a reimbursable school meal be made available at any service line that school food services operates.
Here are some related stories:
- "For students on free or reduced price lunch, the only option the government will pay for is the hot meal. Thus, the snack [à la carte] line, symbolizing consumerism and choice, becomes the "cool" option," states one article. "Kids start to feel embarrassed to eat the hot lunch, or even to stand near that line, because people might think they are poor, and getting free lunch."
- Another blog noted school food was a "social wedge and source of stigmatization," and that this stigma "certainly deters children from participating [in the school lunch program]."
- Several pieces illustrating the issue of stigma in school cafeterias have been published, and despite being written in previous years, the issue remains just as important today. A New York Times article quoted a student who claimed lunchtime "is the best time to impress your peers," and being seen with a subsidized meal "lowers your status."
Here are some talking points to continue to broaden the frame and discussion of this issue:
- No child should be discouraged from participating in the school lunch program. The federal school lunch program provides vital nutrition assistance to those who need it most-over half of California students qualify for free or reduced price meals. These meals, which must meet strict nutritional standards, can provide both health and academic benefits, while also drawing additional federal funds (per-meal reimbursements) in to California.
- Removing stigma from school cafeterias contributes to an environment in which all students are treated equally. School cafeterias should not be an environment that separates students along socioeconomic lines, and no student should ever be told they must go elsewhere to get their meal. All students have a right to a healthy, balanced meal, and when they forego this meal due to a fear of stigma, that is simply unacceptable.
For those who can't make it to ENACT Day, join us virtually on Twitter on May 16 (@strat_alliance) for updates on the day's events. We'll be live-tweeting throughout the day-using the hashtag #ENACT2012-and invite you to join the conversation.