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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Unanticipated Consequences at Lunchtime

Our chapter on social welfare policy notes that well-intentioned programs sometimes have unintended consequences. The latest example comes from The Los Angeles Times:
For many students, L.A. Unified's trailblazing introduction of healthful school lunches has been a flop. Earlier this year, the district got rid of chocolate and strawberry milk, chicken nuggets, corn dogs, nachos and other food high in fat, sugar and sodium. Instead, district chefs concocted such healthful alternatives as vegetarian curries and tamales, quinoa salads and pad Thai noodles.
There's just one problem: Many of the meals are being rejected en masse. Participation in the school lunch program has dropped by thousands of students. Principals report massive waste, with unopened milk cartons and uneaten entrees being thrown away. Students are ditching lunch, and some say they're suffering from headaches, stomach painsand even anemia. At many campuses, an underground market for chips, candy, fast-food burgers and other taboo fare is thriving....
For months before introducing the new fare, the district held community taste tests and collected 300,000 comments — 75% of which were positive, Binkle said.
But [food services director David] Barrett said the debut was a "disaster." Participation plunged by more than 13%, he said. About two-fifths of the loss was tied to 99 schools that temporarily resumed requiring lunch tickets; typically, a drop-off is expected when this occurs. In the last month or so, the overall program has begun to recover; participation is down by about 5% or 6%, Barrett said.
Students have embraced about half of the new fare, according to Binkle; the salads and vegetarian tamales in particular have been popular.
But some students said they still are not eating — including those who liked the food at the taste tests.
Andre Jahchan, a 16-year-old sophomore at Esteban Torres High School, said the food was "super good" at the summer tasting at L.A. Unified's central kitchen. But on campus, he said, the chicken pozole was watery, the vegetable tamale was burned and hard, and noodles were soggy.

The district is revising the menu.