How many times have we heard the old adage, “There’s no such thing as a free lunch”?
We say it over and over as a way to prove that it’s impossible to get something for nothing. As if lunch is some kind of luxury afforded only by those who deserve it.
Lunch, however, is not a privilege. It’s a need, not only for us, but especially for our growing and developing children. They spend hours in school each day, preparing themselves to inherit the planet we’re currently tasked to maintain. And they need the energy and the nutrition from a hot school lunch in order to make that happen.
Of the nearly 1,800 public schools in New York City, less than a third of them offer students a free lunch no matter what their family income. That means 1,200 of them don’t.
For many of these kids, a school lunch could be the most nutritious meal they’ll have all day. It’s essential for good development, both physically and mentally.
Yet many of these kids go without. Not because they don’t have free lunches available to them — instead, it’s because they don’t want the stigma that comes from getting that free lunch society tells us shouldn’t exist.
Except it’s not like the students pulling out cash for their meal are paying full price. In a world of $5 footlongs and $4 Big Macs, a student in our public schools pays nothing more than $1.75 for a complete meal.
In grade schools, today, that would get you a steak and cheese empanada, french fries, a spring mix salad, and a “cookie treat.”
At the high school level, you can choose the empanada or instead go with a chicken cordon bleu on a “New York hero roll.”
Yes, for $1.75.
That might sound like an amazing price for any of us who frequent some of Riverdale’s amazing eateries, but for many families, that’s a tall bill to pay each day, especially for those with multiple kids.
And obviously, that’s a subsidized price, as we know that meal does not cost anywhere near $1.75.
So if we can subsidize lunch down to this level, why can’t we go the rest of the way? Why can’t we simply make lunch free for everyone?
It’s a concept that’s growing in popularity.
The New York State Health Foundation surveyed 600 likely general election voters earlier this month, finding 82 percent support for universal free lunch. In fact, many felt so strong about it, 66 percent said they were more likely to support a mayoral candidate who would champion such a program in school.
That should be a clear message to Bill de Blasio and anyone considering a run against him this next election cycle. That and the fact lunch is a vital resource for our children, and there should be nothing between them and a hot, nutritious meal.
There should be such a thing as a free lunch, and we should be able to find it where we need it most: public schools.