Sometimes articles that seem simply cute or endearing at first glance actually suggest a stronger point. For example, The Associated Press produced this piece, which tells the story of how some elementary school kids in Las Vegas who didn’t like green beans — frozen — began a polite letter-writing campaign to change the status quo in their school cafeteria:
THEY FOUGHT THE LUNCH LADY — AND WON
LAS VEGAS (July 31) — Even someone who believes you can fight city hall might think twice before taking on the lunch lady. But some second-graders who raised their voices over reheated frozen green beans are being rewarded with tastier vegetables.
The menu at William V. Wright Elementary School is getting a makeover after Constantine Christopulos’ class went on a poignantly polite letter-writing campaign aiming to see less of that particular vegetable in the cafeteria.
“A little boy said, ‘Anything, anything, I’ll even eat broccoli’,” said Connie Duits, the lunch lady. “So that one touched my heart.”
The children were careful to offer praise as they expressed their concerns.
”Dear Mrs. Duits, the food is so yummy and yummy. But there are one proplem. It is the green beans,” wrote Zhong Lei.
”We love the rest but we hate the green beans,” wrote Viviann Palacios.
The Las Vegas students undertook the exercise in mini-democracy after the class read a book called “Frindle,” in which a boy contemplates organizing a boycott of the cafeteria.
”I asked the kids, ‘Is that a respectful way of doing it?’” Christopulos said. “And they said, ‘Oh, not at all.’”
As a result of the students’ campaign, the food service department of the Clark County School District sent staff to the school to see what alternatives they preferred.
With a handful of reporters watching, two dozen students sat down Monday to a veritable salad bar of cooked, frozen and canned vegetables, from baby corn to cherry tomatoes, and filled out a survey.
Because of cost restrictions, the children’s only real choices were between canned and frozen green beans, corn, cooked or raw carrots and cooked or cold peas.
Corn and carrots were popular; cooked peas, not so much.
”The cooked peas, it’s warm and all, but inside of it, it’s all soft and stuff and I don’t like it,” said MacKenzie Rangel.
Brenden Lucas said he liked the raw carrots, “Because it’s hard and crunchy.”
Some children got downright prolific when asked to write what other foods they would like for lunch or breakfast. Viviann requested “stake” and lobster, while Logan Strong wanted “chocolate filled panda cookies” and “chicken cordon blue.”
While not all the requests would be accepted — and green beans would still occasionally be served — district supervisor Sue Hoggan said the survey will help district dietitians “tweak” the menu.
”They were so excited to get a response back,” Christopulos said. “I taught them the pen is mightier than the sword, and hopefully they remember that forever.”
The headline seems a little overstated to us as the school still intends to serve the supposedly hated green beans — if a bit less frequently.
The school also seems to limit itself on a basis we are not certain is correct: Because of cost restrictions, the children’s only real choices were between canned and frozen green beans, corn, cooked or raw carrots and cooked or cold peas.
It seems odd that green beans, corn, carrots and peas are the only items that can come in at the price point needed. And then, it appears that raw carrots are the only fresh item under consideration. This all seems odd and, perhaps, the procurement operation is out of touch.
Yet the bigger problem with this whole effort is that it is run the way a cafeteria in Moscow at the height of Communist orthodoxy might be run.
Why should the children have to write letters about what they enjoy? Shouldn’t the school know from sales statistics? Well, no, actually, since it seems that the school only serves one choice and doesn’t sell a la carte.
Dealing with children and the school lunch program, we can understand that it can be important to sell children a complete lunch, but surely we can still offer children a few options. If the green beans are truly disliked, they will be left over and the better tasting item, say carrots, will sell out. Then the cafeteria will be able to ascertain what items should be phased out and what should be offered more frequently.
In addition, this budget number that, supposedly, has to be met may not have to be. If broccoli costs a bit more, it can be offered as an upgrade for an additional fee — maybe enough kids will want to pay it to merit offering it.
The point is that although petitioning may be good for the kids’ education as they learn they have to write letters to air their grievances, what children buy is a better clue to what they want than waiting for letters.
We would go one step further and offer everything on an a la carte basis because it would give schools a better indication of what the children actually intend to eat. And to the extent we care about childhood nutrition, we have to care about what children eat, not what is put on their cafeteria trays.