The Grapevine

Indiana Teens Develop A Black Market Salt Sale In Response to Congress' Healthy Lunch Standards

Healthy lunch
Teens are selling an illicit commodity at their schools, but it's probably not what you think. U.S. Department of Agriculture, CC BY 2.0

There’s a new black market trade going on at Blackford High School in Hartford City, Indiana as students have been bringing in and selling some seriously illicit contraband within their school cafeterias. That’s right, students at this high school have been selling salt, and word on the street is it goes for one dollar a shake.

Ever since President Obama passed the 2010 Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, strict standards have been imposed on school lunches in order to reduce salt, fat, and sugar. The act’s goal was to decrease childhood obesity nationwide and promote healthier meal options that can be integrated into a student’s daily routines. The government even promised to increase funding to those schools that became certified, helping them purchase adequate and healthy meals for their students. The problem? School lunches were bad before, but now they’re really bad.

“Yeah, they don’t like the food,” said Principal Anne Baddoo of Blackford High School in an interview with Fusion. Baddoo reported finding students selling salt, sugar, and pepper during lunch time to add flavor to meals, and she quickly shutdown the underground operation. Despite having to discipline her students, Baddoo does sympathize with them, finding that more and more students are now struggling with empty bellies. “The thing that bothers me is that there are kids who don’t get adequate food at home. They need to eat when they’re here. I’m all about serving healthy food -- I definitely don’t have an issue with that.”

Similarly, Indiana’s Republican Representative Todd Rokita found students to be eating less. “From firsthand experience, I can verify that despite the increased federal involvement in the school meals program, many students are still going to class hungry," he said to a hearing of the House of Education and Workforce Committee.

He also reported that since the act requires students to take a vegetable or fruit with each male, wasted food has also become a problem. "I've stuck my head in a lot of garbage cans lately in school cafeterias and I've seen a lot of that," Rokita said.

In a recent statement, John Payne, resident of the Blackford County School Board of Trustees and director of the Indiana School Board Association, described to the Indianapolis Star how the act’s requirements have made students look for food elsewhere, even if that means McDonald’s.

“More students bring their lunch, and a few parents even 'check out' their child from campus," Payne said, "taking them to a local fast-food restaurant or home for lunch."

While this may seem counterintuitive, some people still hold out hope for the possibility of change to student’s appetites. Donna Martin, the director of the school nutrition program in Burke County, Georgia says she’s seen receptiveness toward the students’ new diets, free of underground seasoning sales. “We have the opportunity to change a generation," Martin said. "We have an opportunity to raise kids that, when they go into McDonald's, they want a whole wheat hamburger bun."

But are these concerns somewhat unfounded? More and more studies are coming out recently saying that salt intake may not be as bad for us as we think. While high fructose corn syrup and other processed foods are undeniably causing obesity rates to increase, we may be starting to misinterpret what outside of processed foods we should be worried about.

Whichever side you fall on the debate for healthy school lunches, whether they truly benefit students is still unclear. And for all the high school students struggling with bland, unappealing meals, just wait for college. The freedom to eat whatever, whenever will come with your new independence, but remember: the freshman fifteen is the real deal. 

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