Last week, this article from the Toronto Star came out with regards to food policing in schools. It highlighted the issue of some Durham Region school staff confiscating their students snacks and/or lunch items that were deemed “unhealthy”. And then there was this HuffPo opinion piece admonishing staff for that approach, citing several reasons why this practice is more harmful than helpful. It is quite the hot topic that I have been analyzing, trying to frame my thoughts around the issue and now I am ready to weigh-in.
Of course, I can certainly understand the backlash. The thought of your child being made to feel embarrassed by the food they are eating and the shame and pressure that puts on parents going forward is problematic. At first my reaction was similar to most parents in getting agitated about the issue and thinking “How dare they!”. But those are just surface level responses. There is a deeper issue at play here and we as parents/teachers/health professionals/advocates, are missing the mark.
It’s not a matter of teachers being inherently evil or wanting to shame our kids. It is my belief that teachers, just like parents, want what is best for children while in their care. However, we are all to blame; we all created this issue and we can all be part of the solution. And if we are ever going to solve it, there is a need to take a deeper dive into the root cause of what would make an adult feel compelled to take certain foods away from a child.
Let’s start with this question:
- Q: Why? Why did this happen in the first place?
- A: In a word – Fear.
We are being fed scare tactics via our cultural, scientific and mass media messaging. Just think of some of the top headlines that come up when health and wellness is being addressed:
- “Today’s children not expected to outlive parents”
- “Declaring war on childhood obesity”
- “Sugar is the new crack cocaine”
- “Sitting is the new smoking”
That messaging influences our beliefs and choices around our own diets, exercise and health, which then impacts our beliefs around how other people should be eating – moving – living, which then quickly filters down to how we raise and teach our kids.
As a community of people invested in raising happy-healthy children, we need to see the issue of food policing in schools as a much more entrenched issue than what it appears to be. We need to shift the conversation away from blame and shame, recognize our biases around food morality, body size and health and dialogue towards creating school food practices/policies that provide access to all foods in a balanced, yet relaxed environment, that will ultimately nourish us all.