Two Good Articles on Social Stigma in the Lunch Room

by Bettina Elias Siegel on April 10, 2012

While the blog was devoted exclusively to the LFTB issue, San Francisco school food reformer Dana Woldow (creator of the immensely useful school food reform how-to site, PEACHSF.org) wrote two important articles in Beyond Chron about an issue often discussed here on TLT:  social stigma in the school cafeteria.

As I first wrote in “A La Carte – A World Apart?” and elaborated on in subsequent posts (e.g.,”A Follow-Up to the Infamous ‘Cheetos-and-Nach0-Sauce’ Photo“), the shame of being seen in line for the federally reimbursable meal can prevent economically disadvantaged children from eating lunch, a problem that’s exacerbated when when attractive, for-cash-only, snack-bar items are also made available by schools in so-called “a la carte” lines.  (In my district, even cell phones and Facebook are sometimes used to bully kids in the “uncool” line.)

Late last month, Dana looked at stigma from a slightly different angle, as it relates to candy-and-soda-filled food trucks being allowed to come close to school campuses in her district of San Francisco.  Dana fought hard for an existing ordinance that keeps these trucks within 1,500 feet from schools and is now opposing proposed legislation to water down this restriction.  More recently she wrote a follow-up piece examining ways in which stigma in school cafeterias might be reduced, including by enlisting the aid of “upstanders,” or students who choose to act rather than watch passively when they witness bullying.

Both are well worth a read.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

mom of 3 April 10, 2012 at 1:27 pm

I work in the food services dept. in my district. Here we have it set up that there is no way for others to tell if a child is on the program. That information is confidential.

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Dana Woldow April 10, 2012 at 4:46 pm

We have it set up that way in San Francisco too; all the kids use the same system to check out at the end of the line.

The problem was at the middle and high schools, back when they were still offering snacks a la carte; it wasn’t enough to just have everyone using the same checkout system. The culture became that anyone with money was in the a la carte snack line (because snacks are not included in the free/reduced lunch program), so kids stood in the snack line specifically to show that they had money to pay for their food.

By doing away with a la carte snacks, which had become the emblem of “I have money”, and instead offering a variety of full meals (all of them covered under the free/reduced lunch program), we have achieved the ability to offer older students a wider variety of choices at lunchtime but also a fully equitable program, where literally there is no way to tell anymore who bought their meal and who is eating free.

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Jane April 10, 2012 at 2:38 pm

Bravo!
Just found your blog via Facebook. Thanks for being here! I am a lunch lady for the school district and I see a need for change but have no idea where to begin or how to help out. If you can point be in a good direction for starting out I would appreciated it so much!

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