Building a junk food black market

at 10:17 AM ET, 12/22/2011

The Los Angeles Times has the story of a healthy school lunch policy gone awry. It focuses on the Los Angeles Unified School District’s attempt to bring healthy, fresh options into schools. High school students, perhaps unsurprisingly, would prefer to eat Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. Participation in the school lunch program has dropped by the thousands, a black market for unhealthful contraband is thriving and school officials are thinking about bringing back the exact foods they meant to push out:

Principals report massive waste, with unopened milk cartons and uneaten entrees being thrown away. Students are ditching lunch, and some say they’re suffering from headaches, stomach pains and even anemia. At many campuses, an underground market for chips, candy, fast-food burgers and other taboo fare is thriving.
Acknowledging the complaints, L.A. Unified’s food services director, Dennis Barrett, announced this month that the menu would be revised. Hamburgers will be offered daily. Some of the more exotic dishes are out, including the beef jambalaya, vegetable curry, pad Thai, lentil and brown rice cutlets, and quinoa and black-eyed pea salads. And the Caribbean meatball sauce will be changed to the more familiar teriyaki flavor.
The district is even bringing back pizza — albeit with a whole wheat crust, low-fat cheese and low-sodium sauce, according to food services deputy director David Binkle.

Writing food policies that encourage students to eat healthy is tough work, as we saw with this year’s congressional battle over changing national school lunch standards. Getting kids to actually eat the newly approved healthful food turns out, however, to be even tougher.

 
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