In early April, I had a news story in the New York Times about the passage of a groundbreaking law in New Mexico that bans “lunch shaming” – practices in the cafeteria that single out kids with meal debt, such as being given a cold sandwich instead of the hot meal, or being marked with a hand stamp or wrist band.
For me, the biggest surprise of that story was how very surprised the Times readership appeared to be about lunch shaming. Those involved in the world of school food have long known about such practices – and, of course, they are also well known to the kids and families who regularly experience them. But that first story clearly hit a nerve with the general public; it was the fourth-most tweeted and Facebooked New York Times story that weekend.
I was asked to write a follow-up story to give readers a bit more context, and also to focus on the various charities that have sprung up around this problem. That story appears in the paper today – and on the front page of the print edition! (Still a bit in shock over that.)
Meal debt is a difficult problem that negatively affects both kids and school food programs, and it’s important to keep in mind why schools often resort to these practices. The intent, I believe, is not to stigmatize or humiliate children, but to try to keep a program running on an extremely tight budget. Better funding of school meals – or, as one of my interviewees proposes, making them free for all children, regardless of income – would of course help solve this problem on both sides of the equation.
Thanks for reading and sharing the piece! I look forward to resuming regular blogging, which had to fall by the wayside a bit while I worked on this story.
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