Does Eating a Free School Lunch Give Kids “an Empty Soul?”


Just about everyone admits the importance of eating lunch – especially for growing kids in school.

But if you get that lunch for free, does it leave you with “a full stomach and an empty soul”?

Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Paul Ryan thinks so.

He famously made these remarks at the 2014 Conservative Political Action Conference:

“Take Obamacare—not literally, but figuratively here OK? We now know that this law will discourage millions of people from working. The Left thinks this is a good thing. They say, ‘hey, this is a new freedom—the freedom not to work.’ But I don’t think the problem is too many people are working — I think the problem is not enough people can find work. And if people leave the workforce, our economy will shrink—there will be less opportunity, not more. So the Left is making a big mistake here. What they’re offering people is a full stomach—and an empty soul. The American people want more than that.”

So, for Ryan, having affordable healthcare somehow has discouraged people from working. He seems to think there are millions of poor people out there who could get a job but have decided not to because their medical bills are too low.

It’s preposterous. Most poor people are working several minimum wage jobs just to get by. Very few people are sitting at home on the public dole, and those that are need help to find jobs, as he admits. They need help finding better jobs that pay higher wages. They need help getting the skills and training necessary to get those jobs. And they need for those jobs to actually exist! They don’t need condemnation or starvation to motivate them.

If Republicans like Ryan had offered a single jobs bill, perhaps such remarks would be excusable. If they had offered an alternative to Obamacare, likewise it might be excusable. In the absence of those things, his comments seem to be nothing more than a thinly veiled excuse for doing nothing to help the less fortunate.

But Ryan goes on:

“This reminds me of a story I heard from Eloise Anderson. She serves in the cabinet of my friend Governor Scott Walker. She once met a young boy from a poor family. And every day at school, he would get a free lunch from a government program. But he told Eloise he didn’t want a free lunch. He wanted his own lunch—one in a brown-paper bag just like the other kids’. He wanted one, he said, because he knew a kid with a brown-paper bag had someone who cared for him.”

There are several problems with these remarks. First of all, Anderson later admitted that it never happened. She never met a boy who said this. She got the whole thing from “The Invisible Thread,” by Laura Schroff, either from the book, itself, or a TV interview about the book.

Second, Anderson’s cherry picking this example from the book goes completely against what the author was trying to say. The book is the true story of a business executive and an 11-year-old homeless boy who partnered together with an organization called No Kid Hungry to fight child hunger. One key part of the program is connecting hungry kids with federal programs such as school lunches and food stamps. The group also opposed Ryan’s 2013 budget for its proposed reductions in the food stamp program. In short, Schroff was trying to show how important it was to provide free lunches to students – not that we should let them go hungry. Using Schroff’s book to justify cutting school lunch programs is like using Nelson Mandela’s autobiography as a justification for apartheid.

Getting a free lunch doesn’t mean no one cares for you. On the contrary, it means that everyone does, that your community has pitched in to make sure you are fed.

Many politicians and media talking heads refuse to see the realities of modern American life. Deregulation of the banking and corporate sector along with outsourcing and rampant union busting have resulted in an economy where most of the good paying jobs are gone. This puts a tremendous strain on our education system. As a result, more than half of public school students live below the poverty line. But how to meet their needs without stigmatizing kids for circumstances beyond their control?

Many communities around the country including my own, have stepped up with a solution. For the last two years, hundreds of districts throughout my state of Pennsylvania and throughout the nation have offered free lunches to all of their students regardless of family income. Rich kids, poor kids, all kids eat for free. Though students can still bring a lunch from home, having the option to eat at school removes the dichotomy of brown bags vs. cafeteria lunches. All are the same.

The program, called the Community Eligibility Provision, is available nationwide as part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act passed in 2010. Its goal is to provide healthy lunches and breakfasts to millions of students nationwide, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Previously only low-income students or students from families receiving federal assistance received free breakfasts and lunches.

Now, only 40 percent of a single school or an entire district’s population must come from families receiving federal assistance through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and/or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). They may also be homeless or come from foster homes. Once that 40 percent threshold is reached, all students receive free lunch and breakfast. Districts are compensated by the state and federal government.

Before this program, providing school lunches, even at cost, was a losing proposition. Most districts end the year with students owing them large sums for lunches. For instance, two years ago, $25,000 of debt remained with Pittsburgh schools because some students didn’t pay for their meals.

Districts could stop letting these children eat the school lunch, but no one wants to refuse a child a meal. Under the previous system, the extra cost for unpaid lunches and the cost to complete mountains of paperwork involved in collecting the money was put on the backs of local taxpayers. Under this new program, all of this disappears. Moreover, we create a community of children who are better fed and thus better ready for the demands of school.

And mark my words, this IS helping kids become better prepared for class.

As a teacher, I used to have to buy snacks and meals for my students. I had a drawer full of Ramen noodles for children who came to me hungry. Many kids suffer from food insecurity but don’t qualify for SNAP. This program solves that problem.

My own second grade daughter has never known anything else but this system. Though I can afford to pay or pack her a lunch, she prefers to eat what her friends are eating. My wife and I are often baffled that she’ll try new foods at school that she would never give a chance had we made them at home.

And the food is actually pretty good. It’s not gourmet, but it’s better than what you’d get at most fast food restaurants. I even eat it, myself, from time-to-time. I have to pay two bucks, but it’s still a bargain. I particularly like the baked chicken.

People complain about new federal guidelines that have made school lunches healthier, but what they’ve really done is made them better. Whole grain bread and buns taste pretty much the same and are better for you. Using less salt and grease is better all around.

I’ve even noticed the kids learning new things about food from the increased menu. When all this began, I remember many of the middle schoolers expressing disgust at the chicken because it was in whole pieces. They had only seen chicken in nugget form.

Now kids will walk up to the cafeteria ladies and ask to try this or that. Many times they discover something new that they like. It’s really cool to see. Even their manners have improved.

Just today little 5th graders were remarking at how soft and delicious the croissant was on the breakfast sandwich. They had never seen a bun like that before. I literally heard comments like “delicious” and “mouth-watering.”

That’s incredibly high praise for children. Sure some of them still find the food is disgusting, but they are in the minority.

Do the kids who eat these lunches have “an empty soul”?

No, that’s just Paul Ryan.

21 thoughts on “Does Eating a Free School Lunch Give Kids “an Empty Soul?”

  1. Paul Ryan? The Paul Ryan who received Social Security survivor benefits for two years after his father died (which he was perfectly entitled to, because he was a minor, aged 16, to 18 when they ended)? Ryan was able to save those benefits to help pay for college.
    The Paul Ryan who has been receiving a tax-payer funded salary and generous benefits (with a healthy pension when he retires) since becoming a US Representative in 1999?
    So what is he telling people, “I’ve got mine, the hell with you”?
    Speaking of someone with an “empty soul,” Ryan is one of the major poster children for such.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Having taught for many years in a poor small town, I know that lunch is critical to learning. Many of my kids arrived for breakfast too. Situations ranged from no adults able to make lunch to poverty. The causes of poverty are many, but to starve kids to get parents working is not the way to go. Raise kids who will have an education and be contributing members of society. That starts with nutrition! mary mccracken

    Liked by 1 person

  3. It’s obvious that Ryan, Donald Trump, Betsy DeVos, the GOP, wants to get rid of the child-labor laws that were passed back in the early 20th century so poor families that were starving wouldn’t sell their children into servitude to work in factories, coal mines, and whorehouses as young as age 7 so old men like Donald Trump could grope and etc. younger girls, cute little girls, legally.

    These children never went to school. In 1900 at the start of the progressive movement, 40 percent of all American’s lived in poverty, 7 percent graduated from high school by age 18 and only 3 percent of all children went to college. The progressive movement that Trump has promised his deplorable supporters wants to end everything the progressive movement created so children living in poverty wouldn’t have to go to work as prostitutes and factor workers as young as age 7.

    1865 – 1915

    It has to be the children that Ryan and the other GOPs are complaining about, because 44 percent of SNAP (Food stamps) participants are children 18 or younger. That’s almost 20 million children.

    Then there are the elderly. People who were in the workforce for an average of 45 years and are now aging and dealing with health problems. Because they earned mostly poverty wages during the working years they never were able to save enough money to retire comfortably and all they have is Social Security and SNAP to barely survive. The average household receives a benefit to buy food of $256.11 monthly.

    Children and the elderly make up more than half of people living in poverty who depend on SNAP to eat. If any of Trump’s deplorables are reading this comment, click the following link to learn more.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Lloyd, you will probably recall that, five years ago, Newt Gingrich actually suggested firing most of the school janitors and putting young, poor children to work as janitors. An insane suggestion.

      “So what do janitors actually do? It’s a lot more than mopping. To get a sense, look over this job description for a New York City public school custodial engineer–a “master janitor,” as Gingrich would put it. He and his team of cleaners and handymen are responsible for cleaning, yes. That part involves hazardous chemicals like hydrochloric acid. They also operate the school’s heating system, do electrical repairs, maintain the school grounds, take care of the HVAC equipment, and handle basic plumbing fixes, among other assorted jobs. I ask: What parent wants a nine-year-old, or even a thirteen-year-old, toying with the HVAC in her school?

      None. Because this is hard. It’s adult work. It can also be brutal on your health. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, janitors miss work due to on-the-job injuries more often than almost any other occupation. They rank in the top seven on that statistic, along police officers and construction workers. Janitors get splashed with corrosive chemicals. They injure their backs bending over mops and toilets all day. These aren’t concerns you take lightly.”

      They’re all selfish, selfish people, without an ounce of human compassion.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Paul Ryan has the remarkable ability to contradict himself in the course of a single paragraph. I could cherry pick his sentences in support of free lunches in school.

    In the 70s, Mom raised two boys alone. She worked two jobs, and we were what people call latch-key kids. So what? We qualified for food stamps, and for the reduced lunch program. I thought we should. I had enough sense to know we were broke. But were even poorer than we were. They got free lunches. This was obviously never about laziness, because sometimes people do the absolute best they can and there’s just not enough money to go around. Those people absolutely should be helped until things get better for them. When Mom got it all sorted out, we quit getting food stamps and reduced lunches. Anyone who says that her children should’ve starved in the meantime has — you can see this coming — an empty soul.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. OBVIOUSLY, nobody who reads your blog is a Ryan fan. But then, I’m not sure how anybody finds anything to like about the man at all.

    Must disagree with MichaelEdits – Ryan has no soul at all – not just an empty one.
    (Madelyn Griffith-Haynie – ADDandSoMuchMore dot com)
    – ADD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching co-founder –
    “It takes a village to transform a world!”

    Liked by 2 people

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