In the words of Orson Wells ‘Ask not what you can do for your country. Ask what's for lunch.’ School lunches could make citizens out of all of us.

Nearly every OECD country provides either free or subsidised school lunches. Only New Zealand, Canada and a few others continue the tyranny of the packed lunch and the soggy sandwich. 

That’s because we’re not a child-centered culture. 

In countries like Britain, France, Finland, Japan and Sweden, where most kids get school lunches, no one talks about the parents. They talk about the kids. This week, all we’ve talked about is the drop kick parents who don't feed their kids breakfast. 

The opposite is true in other countries where lunch is served at school. No one questions that the state has a role to play. It’s not an extension of welfare. While you’re in school in France or even the USA, you belong to society. It will make sure you get one hot meal a day because that’s an investment in the future.  Hungry kids don’t concentrate, don’t learn as well, and are more likely to fail.

In France, schools are there to mould French citizens. 

When my kids started primary school in France, I once had a note sent home to remind my ‘Kiwi’ son not to eat the bread and cheese before his main meal. ‘That is not how we do it in France. Bread and cheese is eaten after the main course’ My kids were children of the state of France, didn’t matter what I did at home and what I spent my money on. Parents weren’t important. 

That’s the problem with National’s breakfast in schools scheme here. Breakfast is the parents responsibility. Much easier to sell the state’s intervention at lunchtime, when kids are legally obliged to be on school premises, learning and preparing for a brighter better future where we all benefit.

I grew up in England, and every day Mrs Collett the dinner lady in her white overall and cap, would read us the menu; ‘Today its mince, carrots and mashed potatoes, with spotted dick and custard for pudding.’ We may have groaned, but I had better lunches than my kids who have lived on my pack lunches for years.

The USA has had the federal National School Lunch Program (NSLP) since 1946 when President Harry Truman signed it into law. It supplies five billion low cost or free lunches every year to kids who qualify, and cheap lunches to every other kid. 

If the land of the free can do it, it’s hardly a socialist conspiracy to take over the parenting of your child. 

Although a Republican Senator in West Virginia , Ray Canterbury did suggest that if kids are getting meals free, they should earn it.

"I think it would be a good idea if perhaps we had the kids work for their lunches: trash to be taken out, hallways to be swept, lawns to be mowed, make them earn it,"

Getting kids to work for food? We outlawed that about 150 years ago.

Feeding the kids lunch would help us create a generation of well-fed and valued citizens. 



Comments (9)

by Chris de Lisle on May 31, 2013
Chris de Lisle

You say "it’s hardly a socialist conspiracy to take over the parenting of your child" and yet your French example shows that a "child centred culture" can mean exactly that - a culture in which the state strongly asserts its role in raising children in matters where New Zealanders are currently inclined to tell it to butt out.

The tenor of your article rather suggests that you think that we should be moving toward that sort of culture in general.

Aside from school lunches, what sort of things should fall within the state's child-raising ambit? Aside from well-nourished, what sort of adults should we as a country be trying to raise? 

by mudfish on May 31, 2013

Can be done really badly too, just ask Jamie Oliver.

by stuart munro on May 31, 2013
stuart munro

@ Chris - what sort of adults?

Smart, multiply-literate, well-informed, curious, creative, conscientious, broad-minded, passionate, enlightened, assertive, ambitious and sincere.

All the virtues lacking in our present government in fact.

by Fentex on May 31, 2013

One always feels tempted to ask such pontificators what makes New Zealand so attractive they migrated here if it's so awfully wrong about things?

I liked my spaghetti sandwiches, and apples from our tree; the occassional purchased treat was a thing to look forward to. Getting my breakfeast was a motivation for getting out of bed on cold mornings.

I personally prefer the concept of individual responsbility and organization in daily life than mass organization and, to my mind, sullen acquiesence to authorities choices.

by Ian Hassall on May 31, 2013
Ian Hassall

When various things are prescribed for children I find it useful to think of how it would be perceived if the same was done for adults. The food in schools discussion brings to mind the meal allowance that business people, public servants and others are able to claim when they are at work. I'll take more seriously some demands that parents must feed their children while they are at school when some of those making them forego their meal allowances and take boxes of sandwiches with them on business trips.

by Matthew Percival on May 31, 2013
Matthew Percival

This is your best piece on Pundit thus far Josie - a thought provoking extension of existing policy from low decile schools to a universal system.

Given the anti-success attitude we have in New Zealand I'm not sure how a policy giving free lunches in decile 10 schools would be received by the populous! And it does beg the question as to why the taxpayer should foot the bill for feeding the children of the rich. The policy though would effectively be a tax cut for everyone which is a good thing.

I think there are some practical difficulties with the policy. Whilst a mass-feeding policy would achieve economies of scale in terms of cost, the feeding needs of children in a multi-cultural society are a little different to those in other countries. An East Asian family would likely prefer their child to have a rice-based dish for lunch, a European family a sandwich and an Indian family may prefer something spicy for their children. All have their merits but how can schools, especially smaller schools, be expected to be able to cater to every student? Then there are things like nut allergies etc to be worked around.

It should also be pointed out that's kids are notoriously picky. I know I was back then! A universal food policy could result in some kids not receiving food they like and binning it. And how does a school ensure every child is well catered for? How do the schools cater to the 5"11 100kg 7th former, the 4"4 45kg 3rd former and everyone in-between? How do the schools ensure nobody misses out?

by stuart munro on June 01, 2013
stuart munro

Matthew, easily enough.

You bring it in as a supplement or option students can choose, not something they must have. No binning. Get health professionals to design the menus, and involve the community in provision - create a few jobs. Even a government as useless as this could do it, if they weren't completely corrupt.

Bill English would set it up to fail so he could privatise it.

by Rab McDowell on June 03, 2013
Rab McDowell

If " My kids were children of the state of France" or England, United States or New Zealand and "belong to society" and therefore the state / society has the duty to give them lunch  then whose duty is it to feed the kids if they are not at school.

by Peter Matthewson on January 25, 2014
Peter Matthewson

What on earth is spotted dick?????

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