Food Under Fire: Student leaders debate the merits of federal food rule

Bark Staff

Editor’s Note: The following is the continuation of a transcript of a panel discussion that The Bark led amongst a few Bearden seniors and juniors from different clubs and publications to see what they had to say about the federal food guidelines’ impact on BHS. The discussion picks up where it left off in the fall edition of The Bark magazine. To read the discussion from the beginning, please pick up a copy of The Bark magazine in one of the following locations: West Mall office, East Mall office, Guidance, or the library.


Marianne Dodson – BBN
Sydney Gabrielson – Student Body Vice President, Annual
Taylor Johnson – The Bark
Sydney Jones – HOSA
Sebastian Soldner – Former Virtual Enterprise

Kelsey Kinzer: So [teachers bringing in food] was kind of a motivational tool as well?

Sydney Jones: That’s what I always found, sitting in class like, “It’s Friday, I don’t really want to be in school right now, but it’s ok because I’m about to get some cookies, and so that’s going to bring my day up a bit.” And also being diabetic, there were a lot of days when I was like “I need cookies, or I’m going to pass out in the hallway and knock some people down.” And so now it’s like, sometimes I’m like “I hope I have enough food with me because I don’t want to carry around an enormous sack full of food.” Like I carry some things around me, but sometimes it’s not enough, so having that food there was actually really nice to have instant access to that.

KK: We are still providing food. I mean vending machines are different, obviously, with sugar free snacks and DECA is selling whole-grain cookies. Is that healthier, per se? Because we’re hearing a lot in the media about aspartame, and chemically added things into diet drinks, so is it actually healthier to have this?

Taylor Johnson: This isn’t a new thing where they have stopped selling regular drinks. We have always had diet coke and diet products in schools. I’ve always had a problem with that because what if somebody wanted the other option in attempts to make a better decision because of all the studies that have been done on diet drinks? But now you can’t even buy one from a club if they sold one. I remember buying a regular drink because I thought it was a better option than buying a diet drink from the vending machines.

KK: But not even sodas, it’s about snacks, like they have granola bars instead of honeybuns. They have more healthy, filling, alternatives. Is that valid?

Sebastian Soldner: The issue with that is now kids buy things from the vending machine, I think, because they’re hungry and they want something that tastes really good, and obviously makes them happier. And when it comes to granola bars and water, obviously kids will buy water because they need something to drink, but if it comes to a matter of price, then you’re not going to spend $1.75 for a granola bar that’s really small, doesn’t really taste that good, when you could’ve gotten Skittles or something else in the past. So the fact that the cafeteria sells one Pop-tart per package for a dollar, and then everything else, the price is the same but the value has diminished in taste, it’s more of an issue of “what am I willing to pay for?” than anything else.

TJ: Not only that, but like, “What am I putting into my body?” Because I feel like a lot of whole food options would have been a much better decision than trying to make other options that we don’t even recognize. I don’t even recognize half of the things in the vending machines. I frequently buy whole foods and all natural granola and stuff, so is this really better for us? Is fat-free or reduced calories actually better for you when you can’t recognize half the things that are in it?

KK: So you don’t feel informed about the new products that they’re selling to feel comfortable?

TJ: Not only that, but I feel like I don’t know who picks out what they put in there, but I feel like they need to have more recognizable healthy options.

SJ: Because you’re not going to put in your money like “I don’t know what this is, but I’ll get it.” You wanna go with something you know you’re going to like.

Marianne Dodson: There are a lot of things in the vending machine by the gym that have really weird names.

KK: Okay so…what are the alternatives to this food rule? You only have 15 days per semester, 30 days total a year. What would be better alternatives to like student, teachers, and the school can’t provide, full fat, not sugar free, stuff like that? What would be better alternatives to this?

MD: Well, personally, I don’t see that much wrong with the current rule, and I think – going back to what Sydney said – yeah, we want students to be happy, but I don’t think we should automatically equate happiness with healthiness. And I mean, yeah, kids aren’t gonna like not getting chocolate chip cookies every Friday, but in the long run, if you’re looking toward building a healthier generation, we might just have to bite the bullet and deal with the fact that there might be some negative output, but ultimately, it’s going to better help kids.

KK: Is food in the schools a main problem with the health of America?

MD: I don’t think it’s a main problem, but I definitely think it’s something that contributes. I mean the fact that it’s so regular and so normalized to eat. I mean just going back to freshman year, I had a friend, who will remain nameless, who between first and second period bought two things of Deca cookies and a chicken biscuit, which is probably 800 calories, all eaten in a time span of 15 minutes, and I think that it’s just [that food is] so accessible and so available is contributing to people thinking, “Oh, it’s normal. I’m in high school; it can’t be that bad. I’m in a place where they talk about healthiness and where they’re selling cookies, so is it really going to affect me?” I just feel like the fact that people, the fact that it’s there in such a normal way, it doesn’t ingrain into their minds that it’s such a harmful…

SJ: I feel the opposite way. It’s there to be sold and bought and such, and you have the option to buy it or not, and it is a temptation for some. They’re like, “I shouldn’t have that,” and it is a temptation, but it’s still an option. They’re not forced to buy it. …

Sydney Gabrielson: And on that note, I was in leadership freshman year and we were taken to the Knox county food-viewing day and there they had a variety of alternative lunches, they had vegetables, they had how you can incorporate all these different things in your meals, but I’ve never seen those implemented at all. They probably had over a hundred different vendors and they were like, “Oh yeah, this is gonna be implemented in our schools. We are going to have new lunches and everything,” but I know the class goes every year and I haven’t seen one thing implemented. Is that just being like, “oh we’re trying to make a change,” just putting it out there, or are they really not doing anything?

SS: From freshman year to senior year, concerning the lunches, I’ve noticed two things. Remember freshman year we all had Papa John’s pizza in the cafeteria, right? The first thing I noticed was kids really don’t have self control when it comes to pizza. I’ve seen my friends blow $10 and get like 2 slices and breadsticks, and that’s already a crazy amount of money. That, per day, and also the fact that the breadsticks are like 400 calories and the pizza itself; it costs so much money. Kids are willing to buy that ‘cause they’re hungry. It’s kind of like if it’s there, they’re going to go for it, but once we remove that – sure, there was uproar the next semester – but after new people coming in old people leaving, it’s quelled down, and people have gotten used to the fact that there isn’t this really tasty alternative to the school lunch. So I think over time as it transitions, kids will get used to it, and it won’t be a big deal anymore. But I guess, it’s just like the old uproar of, “Oh, how it used to be. We got chicken biscuits and DECA cookies and an hour long early release.”

KK: So I think you bring up an interesting point in can high schoolers handle temptation? And should they be allowed to say “You know what? I’m not gonna have cookies today” ‘cause they are gonna have to face that in the real world, but let’s say, like, elementary schools can’t. Is this policy [more] effective in elementary school versus high school? Would there be better ways to do it?

SJ: I don’t think that students are just going to be selling food in the hallway at elementary schools. That’s just not as common. The schools that I went to, that didn’t happen.

KK: Well the rule is really that teachers can’t provide food and stuff. They can’t give out candy to elementary schoolers. Is that better?

SJ: I think that giving candy to elementary schoolers is like a great way to show praise, appreciation to a point. I had teachers where if you got up to write on the board, you got a piece of candy. “Good job!” I think it’s a good use of praise, but it should be regulated. You shouldn’t be giving kids pounds and pounds of candy every day just for standing up and writing on the board.

KK: Going back to Marianne’s point how if they see teachers giving candy out as an encouragement, is that effective, using food as a motivator? Giving out sugar and candy and stuff like that as a motivator, is that setting a good precedent for the future? If we’re thinking [of] food as a goal, whereas food is fuel, not this great, holy thing that is so exciting to be rewarded by.

SG: I personally don’t think it should be used as a motivation [tool] especially in elementary school where they’re so instilled with different things that they’ll keep learning the rest of their life. But in high school, like they all said it’s not used as a motivation in class, but it’s kind of like something to look forward to in class when you have a food party. Like in yearbook, that’s how we bond. We used to have potlucks every other week, and it’s a great way to form a class bond because we would all sit around the table family-style and eat our food. So there are definitely pros to having food, but in elementary school, I think the cons outweigh that.

MD: It’s not as if food is the only way to give kids an incentive for anything. Did you guys all have Accelerated Reader and you got those points and stuff? And did you guys have a reward for having points and stuff?

SS: I was on that!

MD: Yeah, I won a few things.

SG: You guys [had] food? We had stars. The hats and the stars.

MD: Sydney, you may have come after this, but were you there when they had the shop set up?

SG: Yes.

MD: And however many points you had, you could go buy stuff, and I bought like a notebook, and it had Hilary Duff on it and erasers and like cool erasers, and it was stuff like that that got me excited. It doesn’t necessarily… if you consistently treat food as the incentive, that turns into that’s what’s gonna make me happy, that’s it, whereas there are other things that could be used as incentive.

KK: …So I guess we’re saying it’s valid to eliminate temptation for elementary schoolers because we don’t want to instill that reward at the youth. Is it valid to eliminate temptation in high schoolers when they have to deal with it driving down the street every day?

TJ: From my understanding, it just seems like we were impacted the most, and I feel like elementary and middle schools are already regulated enough that they don’t even realize this is happening. They have no idea, like I’ve tried to talk to them and they’re like, “What are you even talking about?” Because it’s like, it’s already been regulated. We have been trying to push for “better food” for our students such as fat-free and other, healthier options. It’s just we were impacted because we had things for sale. I think that’s why we need to go back to why did they just throw it out there? They made this rule happen without any foreshadowing.

SS: We’re at the end of a cycle. Both education and health-wise, there’s a huge revamp going on. Common Core has been delayed obviously, but it’s [implemented] – it’s already in middle schools and elementary schools. I remember when I was in elementary school…3rd grade, my teacher gave out candy as rewards; 4th grade, no more. So we’re at the end of this era…It boils down to like everything in moderation. Obviously if kids can’t handle it, then I don’t think elementary and middle schoolers really would be able to. I mean like if you gave alternatives to high school students, like okay you have a punch card and for one semester you get 10 chicken biscuits. That would be a much better way for kids to both, one: realize that they still get a reward sometimes; and two: they have to moderate and make sure that they use their resources wisely. Make sure they use it on a day they really need it. It also teaches them the value of what they spend their money on.

TJ: I completely agree. I just feel like we should be focusing on teaching these good habits instead of enforcing it and not exactly explaining reasons. We kind of discovered this rule on our own, and we didn’t really receive information about it beforehand.

SG: And I think it’s all about making a mentality that these things can be harmful if possible, like if you overdose – okay, not overdose – but like you over-purchase or you over-[eat]…Just as you said, everything in moderation…So if we teach that at a young age, I think that the world would be fine. Obviously not everyone’s gonna follow that, but it’s a step in the right direction.

SJ: I think that I’m pro-food, but just with everyone you hear about diets like, “Just do four small meals a day instead of three large ones” because you’re supposed to like spread out so your metabolism is consistent. And personally, I’ve had some days that it’s just like I didn’t eat that much in the morning, I didn’t eat that much at lunch…So I went home, and I ate a lot. It was bad and so, if you give us that option, which we’re almost adults so you’re about to send us into a world where we have to be financially alone for the most part – our parents are still there, but we have to make all of our own choices – we should be able to start now, just with small choices like buying a chicken biscuit. It’s not like a huge end-of-the-world deal. If you can’t control yourself at school, you can’t control yourself at home. Then, if you’re completely cut off at school, you’re going to compensate at home. That was really random and maybe confusing but…

SS: I know what you mean.

SJ: Kids don’t get fat from school. That’s not where all of their life lessons come from. They learn these things from their parents, from home, from family, friends, stuff like that. At school, we learn academics, not as much values. So you can cut off these kind of food choices here. I don’t think the impact is going to be big enough to really make a difference because kids will just go home and compensate, or they’ll bring their own stuff to school to compensate.

KK: So, in hindsight, we need more regulation instead of what we went to. For high schools, not speaking about elementary schools because it’s a valid thing in elementary schools…So, more regulation in high schools so that people can learn moderation?

TJ: Also, have their freedom to choose.

SG: Don’t cut us off cold turkey. If you’re gonna do it, weed us off slowly.