So Easy a Nine Year Old Could Do It

Whenever there is a ray of hope that California has not completely seceded from reality, whenever common sense raises its head in a rare appearance in California government, and particularly whenever that ray of hope and that common sense go on display in the gloomy halls of California’s failed public education system—it’s a story you just have to hear.  

When two cute nine year olds are the source of this great story, it’s gut check time for the dinosaur that is the Los Angeles Unified School District. Or is this story just a propaganda stunt?  You decide.

Leslie Heredia and Paulina Sanchez are fourth grade friends enrolled at the Jaime Escalante Elementary School in Cudahy, California, one of 658 K-12 schools administered by the Los Angeles Unified School District. 

81% of the students at Escalante Elementary qualify for free or reduced price lunch.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the two girls noticed that their classmates often tossed uneaten school lunches into trash bins.  They hated to see all that food wasted and wondered if the food could go to needy families in the area. “We thought about all the kids who didn’t have food”, Paulina told the Times.

The girls wanted to find out how much food went into the garbage.  So they counted every trashed lunch and made a graph showing that almost 500 items a week were thrown away.

What a concept!  Food wasted at school could be saved to feed hungry people in the neighborhood. The nine year olds connect the dots, but will the School District bureaucracy?

Armed with their graph, the girls wrote Dennis Barrett, Food Services Director for the L.A. School District about the waste.  Barrett responded the next September telling the girls that the School Board had voted back in April to adopt a food donation policy allowing non-profit agencies to distribute unopened lunch items thrown away by the students.

Barrett told the girls that 71 schools (out of 658) currently donated unopened food to 21 community organizations in the District.  He recommended that the girls get their school to set up a “common table” where students could leave unwanted food.

Barrett did not tell the girls that their letter represented yet another setback to his plan to get students to eat his “healthy food” menu.

In 2010, Barrett’s Food Services Division had a budget of $300 million, and a workforce of 5,000 serving 650,000 meals per day (more meals than all the McDonald’s in L.A.) at 900 locations in the schools.

Barrett, with over forty years working experience, is an acknowledged national expert in school kitchen design and public school food production facilities.  He is also a crusader for government defined healthy food.

In 2011, the Food Services Division and Mr. Barrett received the Golden Carrot Award from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine for “doing an exceptional job of improving the healthfulness of school lunches” encouraging kids “to eat fresh fruits and vegetables” and implementing a program “that offers plenty of vegetarian, low-fat, whole grain, and nondairy options.”

Barrett spent years pressing the School Board to constantly revise the school menu to reflect healthy diet dogma–“a menu completely free of trans fats!” “No flavored milk!” “No carbonated beverages!!” “Bring on the vegetable bean burgers, the vegetable tamales, the delicious soy milk!!!”  

The District adopted Barrett’s new menu and a social awareness campaign called “I’M IN” to convince students of the link between healthy food and healthy students and better student performance

There was only one problem.  The kids hated the food and wouldn’t eat it. 

The L.A. Times reported that Barrett himself called the roll out of the new healthy school lunch menu a “disaster”.

Here’s how the Times described the chaos caused by the new menu:

“Many of the meals are being rejected en masse…Principals report massive waste, with unopened milk cartons and uneaten entrees                being thrown away…At many campuses, an underground market for chips, candy, fast food burgers, and other taboo fare is thriving.”

The black market in food students actually liked forced a partial retreat.  Meat burgers were re-introduced along with a redesigned “healthy” pizza. At this writing, deep fried corn dogs, nachos, and chocolate milk are still out.

Look at this story again.  Sure student obesity is a problem.  But is the school lunch menu the cause of student obesity?

This is the School District that banned dodge ball and curbed competitive sports on political correctness grounds.  This is the School District that responded to budget cuts by cutting athletics and gym courses while keeping lobbyists and administrators, and now wants to blame student obesity on the school lunch menu.

The neat propaganda trick of publicizing the two fourth graders idea for food sharing was meant to inoculate public opinion against disclosure of the monumental failure and colossal waste of the so-called healthy food menu.

To avoid the waste and failure, maybe Paulina and Leslie can convince the School Board to re-instate the gym program for all students, competitive sports based on athletic ability, and vigorous games at recess. 

Let the students work off the calories and they won’t get fat eating what they like.