Annica Eriksson is the lunch lady at a school in Falun in central Sweden. In order to offer students alternatives for their meals, she has been baking bread and offering an “assortment of 15 vegetables at lunchtime,” on noting that not all students cared for the foods available at lunch time. But the local government has told her stop offering meals of such “high caliber” because it is “unfair” to students at other schools, says The Local.
A cafeteria cook goes out of her way to make food that students will actually eat rather than throw away and is told she is doing the wrong thing?
According to The Local, Falun authorities are also contending that Eriksson’s meals are not in compliance with the “directives of a local healthy diet scheme” that was enacted in 2011; this scheme calls for creating an “optimal diet structure with a holistic perspective.” Said Katarina Lindberg, the head of the sector that oversees the school diet scheme, “A menu has been developed… It is about making a collective effort on quality, to improve school meals overall and to try and ensure everyone does the same.”
Eriksson points out that her cooking has not added any expenses (indeed, her cooking methods have been “generally cheaper than most“) nor has she heard any complaints. Fourth-graders at the school have started a Facebook group (“Let the students at Vikaskolan keep their good food. Stop Jante!”) demanding that Eriksson be allowed to continue to make lunches that many of us would gladly wait in line for.
As The Local explains, “Jante” is a “typically Scandinavian value system which emphasizes the collective over the individual, sometimes resulting in the devaluation of success or achievement.” Indeed: In order to make sure there is a “collective effort on quality,” the students at Eriksson’s school will now be given store-bought bread and the fifteen-vegetable buffet that Eriksson crafted will be halved.
It seems especially regrettable that Falun authorities have decided to tell Eriksson to cease from her creative efforts instead of consulting with her to better understand what kids actually want to eat.
Eriksson’s kid-friendly culinary abilities would certainly be welcome in the US. New federal regulations for healthy lunches have meant that portions of pizza and chicken nuggets have been reduced, if those foods remain on lunch menus at all. As the New York Times reports, students at the suburban Parsippany Hills High School in New Jersey must take packets of carrots and apples before leaving the lunch line; most of these end up in the garbage. Some students have launched a Facebook group calling for a boycott to school lunches (because they’re too healthy, in ironic contrast to the Swedish student’s Facebook group).
In The Local, Eriksson makes a point that both Swedish and US authorities overseeing school lunches would do well to heed, namely that ”amid the struggle to enforce common standards, the needs of the children seem to have gotten lost.” There’s no question that children in the US eat too much junk food and too few fruits and vegetables and that too many are likely to become overweight, if they are not already. It’s not only that school lunches need to be “holistic” and “healthy”; they shouldn’t be chores for kids to eat but leave them, in Eriksson’s words, “happy and satisfied.”
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