People often ask me why I care so much about school food, and the answer is simple: of the 31 million kids who eat school food each day, about two-thirds do so out of need. These economically distressed kids can’t “just pack a lunch,” as many have suggested, and so it’s all the more critical that we get this program right.
Concern about childhood hunger also drives my consistent support of in-class school breakfast programs, despite the controversy surrounding them in some quarters, and it’s why this blog has offered since its inception a list of reputable anti-hunger charities to which to donate, as well as seasonal reminders asking TLT readers to keep America’s 15 million food insecure kids in mind.
But I’ll admit I was somewhat taken aback when I received this email from No Kid Hungry earlier this week:
Does anyone else find it a little odd that in order to “connect hungry kids to … healthy food,” the charity is encouraging people (including kids) to bake and sell junk food? Or that an anti-hunger charity has partnered with two major suppliers of refined sugar, which has been directly implicated in rising rates of childhood obesity, diabetes and related chronic diseases? Or that in doing so, Domino Sugar and C & H are able to burnish their corporate images at a time when their products are coming under increasing fire, and when the federal government has at long last set a Dietary Guideline urging Americans to drastically cut their consumption of added sugar?
But the truth is, we see this disconnect all the time in our society.
Remember the time my kids were enticed with lemonade and brownies at our local Whole Foods — to raise money so other kids could have salad bars in their cafeterias? (“Sugar for Salad Bars? A Bit of Irony at Whole Foods.”) Or the Krispy Kreme children’s medical clinic? Or the PepsiCo promotion that pushed kids to buy snacks like Doritos to raise money for school athletics? In fact, just this week I saw a photo on Twitter of a candy bar sale to raise money for – yes – juvenile diabetes.
You can’t make this stuff up.
Junk food sales, which prey on our hardwired love of sugar and fat, are a surefire way to raise money quickly and cheaply. That’s the sad and enduring truth at work in all of these cases. And if you force me to choose between alleviating childhood hunger and promoting sugar companies and the sale of junk food, of course I’ll side with hungry children.
But No Kid Hungry didn’t have to set up this distasteful choice in the first place – and I really wish they hadn’t.
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