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Shaming School Lunch Recipients

February 1, 2014
Uintah Elementary School

Uintah Elementary School

The school cafeteria workers and the district supervisor for Uintah Elementary School were placed on paid administrative leave on Friday, four days after they decided to walk through the school’s cafeteria and seize lunches from students who owed money on their food accounts. About 30 students had their hot lunches taken and thrown in the trash because they had negative balances. They were provided with a piece of fruit and a carton of milk instead.

An initial statement by the Salt Lake City District spokesperson, Jason Olsen, said that district was not able to notify the school of the negative balances until after lunch had been served, meaning that the students had been served their meals in error. So they seized the meals. Olsen stated, “If students were humiliated and upset that’s very unfortunate and not what we wanted to happen.” The district later issued a formal apology via its Facebook page, acknowledging that “This situation could have and should have been handed in a different manner. We apologize. We understand the feelings of upset parents and student who say this was an embarrassing and humiliating situation.”

The students whose lunches were thrown away were not necessarily recipients of subsidized school lunch programs. But the shaming of students (and let’s be clear, the only reason a school employee would walk through a cafeteria, take children’s lunches, throw them in the trash, and given them a piece of fruit instead is to shame them), is the natural outcome of efforts to stigmatize welfare recipients n the United States. In December, Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Georgia) proposed that children receiving subsidized school lunches be required to work—perhaps sweeping the cafeteria floor, he suggested—in order to show them that there is no such thing as a free lunch.


The shaming of school lunch recipients (and of welfare recipients more broadly) is longstanding. It helps explain the hostility so many Americans–who themselves are usually just one or two paychecks away from poverty–express towards social spending in the United States. And it also helps explain the ease with which dramatic cuts to federal programs like SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, more commonly known as food stamps, made their way through an otherwise divided Congress this year.

It was later discovered that Kingston had enjoyed more than $24,000 in free lunches (and other meals covered by his Congressional per diem) and more than $4,200 in free meals provided by lobbyists. He also billed more than $145,000 for meals and catering expenses to his campaign. The federal government reimburses schools a maximum of $2.86 per lunch… Something tells me Kingston’s lunches run a bit more than that. But somehow he doesn’t have to bear the stigma that kids receiving free or subsidized school lunches do.

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  1. Whoa! This is a big deal… Talk about making it harder for the poor, embarrassing a whole bunch of kids AND wasting food. What?

  2. Kitchen-Counter-Culture permalink

    Remember the days of the idea of universal entitlements– a good society in which everyone gets the thing, because equality is a social value. I am an American living in Britain watching it all fall apart. Re school lunches, I’ve been hearing about people who in fact are entitited to lunches and don’t even sign up for fear of being shamed.

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