Lunch Shaming


To say that people would shame someone for being legitimately hungry or for not having enough money to pay for their meals seems like a silly and cruel thought. When many Americans live below the poverty line or use food stamps and millions of people qualify and have free or reduced lunch, this is a problem if not anything else. But, sadly children can be mean which is why Tino waits half an hour before going to eat so he can avoid being picked on. Yet, it is even worse to imagine that the topic of this post would be on how the school system is the one doing the shaming. Recent years have seen more attention paid to school lunch policies and how workers are told to handle children who are unable to pay for lunches due to their family’s financial situation.

When a student does not have enough money to afford the $2.35 public school lunch fee many cafeteria workers are forced to take away the child’s tray of hot food replacing it with a cold sandwich and a small milk or nothing at all. What is worse is that the food is taken away only to be thrown in the garbage. Some schools will also have the students who are unable to pay do chores, wear hand stamps, or wristbands. The problem here is too obvious. Children are not only being deprived of a meal, but they are being singled out for it. It is like putting a kick me sign on the back of all the students who cannot afford to pay. This is an issue across the country with 76% of America’s school districts having children with school lunch debt. Cafeteria workers are also put in a terrible position of having to carry out the rules while watching the kids go hungry. In 2015 a lunch lady from California was fired for paying for a first grader’s lunch, and in 2016 another cafeteria worker in Pennsylvania quit after having to take away a tray from a student with a $25 debt.

The main reason for these policies seems to be to ensure the students will pay for the meals and that their parents do not try to abuse the system. Nevertheless, it is clear to the people actually working and going to the schools everyday that the vast majority of the students being shamed are not simply holding out on paying but truly cannot pay for the meal. This also puts the child as the victim in a situation that is out of their control. Though they can apply for the free and reduced lunch program some families do not make the cut off and therefore do not technically qualify even if they need the help. Others do not know that they qualify, and some of the parents who qualify for reduced lunch cannot even afford to pay it.

But, there is hope. People like Chris Robinson personally work to help the students who are unable to afford the cost of school lunch. Like Tino, he and others created a GoFundMe to raise money to pay off many student’s lunch debt so the children can finally get a hot meal. There are also governmental changes, such as the state of New Mexico and their Hunger-free Student Bill of Rights.




Long, Heather . "School lunch shaming: Inside America's hidden debt crisis." CNNMoney. May 10, 2017.