By Marco Visscher, Ode Magazine
Could changing cafeteria menus be the solution to cutting crime and violence?
At first glance there seems nothing special about the students at this high school in Appleton, Wisconsin. They appear calm, interact comfortably with one another, and are focused on their schoolwork. No apparent problems.
And yet a couple years ago, there was a police officer patrolling the halls at this school for developmentally challenged students. Many of the students were troublemakers, there was a lot of fighting with teachers and some of the kids carried weapons.
Several years later, the atmosphere at the school had changed profoundly. Fights and offensive behaviour are extremely rare and the police officer is no longer needed. What happened? The vending machines have been replaced by water coolers. The lunchroom took hamburgers and French fries off the menu, making room for fresh vegetables and fruits, whole-grain bread and a salad bar.
Is that all? Yes, that’s all. Principal LuAnn Coenen is still surprised when she speaks of the “astonishing” changes at the school since she decided to drastically alter the offering of food and drinks eight years ago. “I don’t have the vandalism. I don’t have the litter. I don’t have the need for high security.”
It is tempting to dismiss what happened at Appleton Central Alternative as the wild fantasies of health-food and vitamin-supplement fanatics. After all, scientists have never empirically investigated the changes at the school. Healthy nutrition—especially the effects of vitamin and mineral supplements—appears to divide people into opposing camps of fervent believers, who trust the anecdotes about diets changing people’s lives, and equally fervent sceptics, who dismiss these stories as hogwash.
And yet it is not such a radical idea, that food can affect the way our brains work—and thus our behaviour. The brain is an active machine: It only accounts for two percent of our body weight, but uses a whopping 20 percent of our energy. In order to generate that energy, we need a broad range of nutrients—vitamins, minerals and unsaturated fatty acids—that we get from nutritious meals. The question is: What are the consequences when we increasingly shovel junk food into our bodies?
We already know obesity can result if we eat too much junk food, but there may be greater consequences of unhealthy diets than extra weight around our middles. Do examples like the high school in Wisconsin point to a direct connection between nutrition and behaviour? Is it simply coincidence that the increase in aggression, crime and social incivility in Western society has paralleled a spectacular change in our diet? Could there be a link between the two?