Out to Lunch

They say there’s no free lunch. Not true. If you’re a student of the Memphis/Shelby County unified school district next year, there will be free lunch. Free supper, too, if you participate in any after school activity.

Tony Geraci, head of food services for Shelby County schools, says “my job is to put healthy kids in front of educators so they can learn,” he tells Jennifer Biggs in the Food Section of today’s Commercial Appeal. This will probably gain him sainthood in liberal world, especially since he also stresses he wants to eat local by buying as much food as possible from Memphis area growers.

It all sounds wonderful. He brags Memphis will be the “first universally free program in the country.” But is this a good thing?

Before anyone starts comparing me to a Dickens era Scrooge who wants to see children clutching their bellies from hunger, let me interject. My grandfather grew up in an orphanage. He spoke of a diet of goose grease on moldy bread. My father grew up in the Depression in a household led by a disabled immigrant. They often went hungry. I certainly understand the horrors of not getting enough to eat.

But does that happen in today’s schools? Don’t they already provide free lunches to kids in poverty? Don’t their parents receive food stamps? Geraci has been sending home six meals on weekends to poor kids. Is this not working? Is it such a bad thing for middle class kids to pay for their lunches? Can you still bring a sack lunch (I dare not say brown bag because that has been declared offensive and racist in some parts of the country)? How much of the food will be thrown away by kids who didn’t want it in the first place but are now forced to take it? What about the parent’s right to decide what’s best for his or her own child? This smells like another attempt to make Uncle Sam into Mom and Dad.

Geraci brushes off the idea that some can pay for lunch. “Take that money and put it in the bank. By the time your kid is ready for college, you’ll have tuition.” In what universe? Has he looked at college costs lately? And with the Bernancke pumping up of money, what will inflation do to that savings? Conversely, couldn’t one say that feeding the 145,000 students at even $1 a meal, would save up to $100,000 a day if some of them paid their way? Think how much could be done with that amount.

Geraci doesn’t answer these questions. He quickly says “feeding school children isn’t raising your local taxes. The current $87 million budget – $100 million next year – is federally funded,” Biggs writes. Geraci says “All of this comes from federal grant money from the USDA.”

OK, so where does federal grant money come from? You the taxpayer. Geraci acts like the money came out of the sky and he just grabbed some up. “My jobs is to find that money and bring it home to Shelby County,” he says. “This is your money and you get to see it work. It’s not some bridge to nowhere. It’s a bridge to the future.” But did you have any say in this at all?


What about the elderly, many of whom go hungry so they can have enough to pay their federal income tax. Are they less worthy?

It’s astonishing to me that one man has so much power. In that way there is no free lunch. The government will get something back from you. You will lose more freedom to live like you want to as parent, child, consumer and taxpayer. Uncle Sam always gets what he wants. I doubt the outcome will be students who excel because they didn’t pay for lunch.

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