I came across an interesting article in today’s The Washington Times: some schools in Des Moines, Iowa are working to make their lunches more ethnically diverse — adding meals like enchiladas with pinto beans and chicken rice with sweet and sour sauce. They are doing so to accommodate an increasingly diverse student population. To read this news article, click here.
Delving deeper into the article, I see that one of the triggers for this new initiative is that some immigrant students went home for lunch and never returned to their afternoon classes. To keep the students on campus and to show hospitality, the schools came up with this diversity lunch idea.
This is a wonderful initiative. I applaud the kindness and generosity of the schools!
But is it necessary? Or, is it realistic for most schools to serve tacos, fried rice, chicken nuggets, etc., all at the same time?
Logistically, serving lunch items from different food cultures requires a lot of resources, including time, human efforts, purchasing channels, and funding. While some school districts are able to afford such resources, the surging budget cuts in many public school districts across the country lead to increasingly insufficient resources for school lunch programs. This means for most public schools, it may not be realistic to concurrently prepare and provide ethnic food items from different cultures on the same day. Even if they are able to provide food from certain cultures, it is impossible for them to cover the ethnic group of each and every one of their students. If an Asian immigrant student gets to eat fried rice and a Hispanic immigrant student gets to have taco, wouldn’t a middle-eastern classmate feel left out?
More importantly, if a student is fed with the same type of ethnic food everywhere, at home and at school, he or she may never get used to food in the mainstream culture, never get to know the countless amazing food items outside his or her own ethnic group — his/her world will not be open as it could. When they enter the society in the future, they may face serious challenges because not everywhere will be able to accommodate them. Such a result is actually contrary to the essence and goals of school education, and counterproductive to the intentions of the diversity lunch initiative.
In my high school, we have students from a diverse range of cultural and ethnic backgrounds. Our school district will for sure not be able to provide lunch items tailoring to everyone’s cultural background on a same day. But neither do we need that. Living in a multicultural society, we love chicken nuggets just like we embrace enchiladas and sweet and sour pork. Diversity can certainly make its way into the school lunch program in a more realistic and effective way. For example, the school can provide a different cultural theme for lunch on different days. Providing the same types of food on the same day is much easier and cost-effective than providing different types of food on the same day. By having a taste of different cultures on different days, we’ll get a chance to broaden our perspectives. We look forward to such a change.
Have a wonderful new school year!