“Maggie, Focus!”

I heard that phrase a lot this past week, both from other people to me and from myself to myself. Our class talked a lot about how lack of nutrition and food can affect a child’s brain development and there are copious studies that show that students cannot learn as well in school if they aren’t getting enough food. I had first hand experience with this during my SNAP challenge this week.

It was so hard to focus on anything for any decently long amount of time. I first noticed it Sunday night when, instead of writing a paper, I kept staring out the library window into the night. I had only been doing SNAP for three days and already I noticed a huge shift in my attention span. It probably took me about three times as long to write that short, four-page paper as it normally it does because I could not, for the life of me, focus on it for more than a few minutes. My best friend sitting next to me had to keep trying pulling my attention back to my paper but often to no avail. I stayed up until 4 a.m. to finish that paper and never quite caught up on sleep this past week. I slept through my alarm several mornings.

The rest of the week happened in much the same way. I was tired, couldn’t focus, participated less in classes and spent most of my time thinking about how hungry I was. I am incredibly lucky that I didn’t have any tests or other major grades this week because I don’t think I would have done particularly well on anything. I think this goes to show just how important of a role food and nutrition have in our lives. Without substantial food, our body cannot function well and we revert to a more primal instinct of worrying more about food than anything else. It’s not hard to understand why schools with large percentages of students on free/reduced lunches have lower test scores. These kids don’t get to eat very much except when they’re in school, and even then, it’s not high quality, nutritious food. These kids struggle so much in school because they’re just hungry; it has nothing to do with their talent or work ethic. Learning takes a back seat when you’re worried about where your next meal will come from.

Even though many kids, especially those on SNAP, have the opportunity for free/reduced breakfasts and lunches at school, this food is not very good. To some degree, they’re not going to complain because it’s food in their stomach. But it speaks to the level of inequality that we (as a society) are okay with feeding low-income kids non-nutritious crap just so they have something to eat. In high school, I always hated eating school food because it was just plain disgusting. It was obviously reheated from a frozen package and the fruit and veggies were just as obviously canned. I’m not saying we should get rid of school lunches; so many people rely on them to feed their kids. I am saying that we should be putting better quality food on kids’ trays. There is a huge governmental campaign to make sure people eat healthy, get all their servings of fruits and veggies, limit sugars and oils and what not. How can we teach kids about healthy eating and expect them to apply it in their own lives when we only give them crappy food during the school day? The short answer is, we can’t. We should be providing healthy, fresh (not canned & microwaved) food so kids can eat well and do well in school.

 

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