This writer is currently under the spell of the Columbia Sociologist Sudhir Venkatesh. . . In the sense that, while his astonishing recent book: "Floating City" http://amzn.to/HogRXA contains massive amounts of anecdotal reporting, he is constantly searching for an objective, scientifically reliable explanation, the big picture; how to relate seemingly isolated individual events to larger trends, generalizations and insights. Being untrained in the field, this is intimidating – yet I do constantly mention that I try not to generalize from the particular. My sample is minuscule; while I may describe what I see, I cannot extrapolate the significance without being subjective and thus unscientific! Nevertheless, I forge ahead!Here are some of the rituals around the Elementary School snack – draw what conclusions you will.
First – is there even a time allotted for snack? Often not – but when children eat school breakfast at 7:45 – 8:15, (much earlier if they eat at home and/or take a bus) their lunch period, especially in large or co-located schools can be as early as 10:30 and as late as 12:45 or 1:15. Given that many children do not get back home until well after 6pm, depending on after school pick-up time and working parents, spacing out regular mealtimes should be given careful consideration. Snack is hardly a frill in such a schedule, nor will a few pretzel sticks hold off hunger for as many as 5-8 more after-lunch hours in children of this age.
Snack provision takes one of these forms:
Who supplies snack:
• Family members buy or prepare packable items and send them in daily. If a family doesn’t send their snack, kids don’t eat – unless the teacher has some boxes of Goldfish or Ritz to give out.
• Sometimes in this type of setting, the children will go into the corridor outside their room in order to eat and relax without messing up their tables, and clean-up is easy to monitor – is the hallway clear?
• Teachers overwhelmingly do buy large supplies of snacks – Goldfish, Pretzels, crackers, etc, at their own expense, from desperation and kindness of heart: Go Costco!
• Classes set up a parent schedule for each family to bring snacks for everyone for a whole week. This can vary from the ones who send individual Pirate’s Booty and Veggie Chips to daily fruit selections (25 baggies of washed grapes; 25 fruit cups and Go-gurt tubes) to boxes of yes – Goldfish, and Ritz crackers (with cheese squares!)
• There are also schools where the cafeteria sets up individually packed snacks for the whole class (see photo), which could be a single giant strawberry with its own yogurt dip, a stick of pineapple perfectly shaped and packed like an ice pop, several sticks of carrot or celery with a dressing; plums, peaches or pears; or individually wrapped apple slices washed in citric acid to stay fresh.
Often two children may go down to get the bag, while napkins are handed out and hands washed or sanitized. I don’t know how a school qualifies for this snack – it may be they can sign up, or they may be Title I schools. Often the children don’t like a fresh food – it may be unknown to them in their culture, they may not eat fresh foods at home, they often prefer a home snack such as Cheetos, Oreos, the packs with crackers, fossilized cheese and a red plastic spreader, or some other highly processed food. Sometimes children from China bring snacks such as pastel rice puffs, a flat pack of seaweed squares, or decoratively packaged sugar wafers. Generally sharing snacks is not allowed (allergies and social reasons) but kids’ instinct is to share.
There are a few outliers, such as the scene I saw of a grandmother passing sugary cookies through the railings during recess to her (quite chubby) little granddaughter before lunch!
The conundrum here is that in the lowest income schools, the provision of snacks is laid squarely on the parents, and the types of snacks which are convenient without a lot of preparation or messing up the insides of backpacks are usually expensive, heavily wrapped, heavily processed, and high in preservatives and in empty calories. The more processed they are, the more appealing! Meanwhile, in the higher SES schools, the burden of providing snack is evenly distributed between all parties, competition is kept to a minimum because usually the kids don’t know who sent what (or care) and the chance of fresh, unprocessed foods from quality vendors is very high. The kids who get the most consistent option (from the cafeteria) often don’t like the choice or won’t eat it, adding to the overwhelming waste seen in school cafeterias in general. On the bright side, some tastes may be changed, hunger is held at bay, many kids do cheerfully eat whatever they brought or were given, and life goes on!
To return to the classrooms where no snack time is given, there is usually a stricter and more all-business atmosphere. Despite Chancellor’s Regulations to the contrary, I have often seen snack withheld as an individual (or group) punishment, just as recess is often withheld, to regulate behavior. The conflation of goodness, merit and compliance and the provision of food seems to me to be extremely risky. Just as not getting masses of gifts at Christmas assures you that you have been bad and unworthy, (rather than living in a struggling economy with rotten consumerist values) so withholding food suggests the same, and makes food into what it is NOT – revenge, reward, assurance of value, evidence of love, societal worth – the whole psychological mess we find ourselves in! Just give everyone a healthy snack! When you look at the often pinched, drawn and prematurely aged faces of most kids in school today, the least you can do is keep their calorie count reasonable so they aren't completely wasted by the time they go home! One little Asian girl wandered over to me last week, rubbing her eyes. “I’m really tired”, she said. “Did you go to bed late last night?” I asked her. “No, it’s such a long day when I go to my parents’ job and do my homework after my afterschool,” she said. She is 5.
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