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Big Brother In the School Cafeteria? 425

Posted by samzenpus
from the getting-an-A-in-cafeteria dept.
AustinSlacker writes "An Iowa school district's lunch program asks children as young as 5 years old to memorize a four-digit PIN code so it can monitor what they eat in the school cafeteria - prompting some parents to claim it's an unhealthy case of 'Big Brother.' An over reaction by parents or an unnecessary invasion of privacy?"
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Big Brother In the School Cafeteria?

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  • by thomasdz (178114) on Wednesday September 08, 2010 @09:12PM (#33515828)

    I predict that at the end of next month, little Debbie Povunktuk will be recorded as eating 500,000 calories all in mashed potatoes.

    C'mon... kids that age share all sorts of things... they won't understand that sharing their secret PIN is wrong. Mainly because their mom&dad said to report anyone that tells them "it'll be our little secret"

  • by morari (1080535) on Wednesday September 08, 2010 @09:13PM (#33515836) Journal

    Schools really should be more mindful of what [i]they[/i] serve. If a kid wants to bring their own lunch that's fine, but the school provided meals should be healthy and balanced. Let's get rid of the candy and soda machines while we're at it. Not only does it promote unhealthy lifestyles, but is a disgusting display of consumerism within a so-called institute of education.

  • by Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) on Wednesday September 08, 2010 @09:15PM (#33515864)

    "We're making sure that as they're leaving the lunch line that the menu items they've selected match up with state law, so they're selecting a meal that has all the basic [components] of good nutrition," said school district spokesman Jarrett Peterson. "We're not tracking what each individual child eats."

    If that were true they would not need a PIN, just a pass/fail for whatever is on their tray. Pass you get to go and eat, fail you get back in line and get your vegetables.

    When I was in public school we didn't even have a choice - everybody's meal was exactly the same. Other than outliers with food allergies, why aren't they doing that? No need for any of this technology crap (which, I'd be surprised if it weren't a sweet-heart corporate socialism deal for some company that is owned by a member of the school board) and they probably save money by streamlining preparation and purchasing too.

  • Re:indoctrination (Score:4, Insightful)

    by morari (1080535) on Wednesday September 08, 2010 @09:16PM (#33515874) Journal

    Perhaps not. A short pin number is easy to remember. You're not going to send your five year-old to school with a pocket of cash for lunch. Often times schools will simply have a running tad, controlled via an identifying number. It can be paid off as the semester goes, or filled with credits ahead of time. I seriously doubt that most schools offer much variety in food, so tracking what they're eating isn't going to varying much from student to student. About the only thing it'll show is who does or doesn't bring their lunch from home.

  • by AnonymousClown (1788472) on Wednesday September 08, 2010 @09:18PM (#33515896)

    "We’re making sure that as they’re leaving the lunch line that the menu items they’ve selected match up with state law, so they’re selecting a meal that has all the basic [components] of good nutrition,” said school district spokesman Jarrett Peterson. “We’re not tracking what each individual child eats.”

    So, no one thought of serving only nutritious food that meets the guidelines? Instead they spent (I'm sure a fortune) on an electronic system to track this stuff. And you just know that the school district is or will have budget problems and it won't occur to them as to why.

    I so fucking disgusted right now.

  • by iamhassi (659463) on Wednesday September 08, 2010 @09:20PM (#33515916) Journal
    recording what our children eat in school is not a bad idea, I don't see it as big brother and the school's response is completely reasonable: "The program is intended to provide the children with more food options while ensuring compliance with new and stricter state-mandated nutrition requirements."

    I would appreciate it if my kid's school would tell me what he was eating or if he was eating.

    Makes sense to me, wonder if these parents complain when their children take state mandated tests.

    Also why is the parent making a huge deal about memorizing 4 numbers? Don't these children know their 7-digit home phone numbers?

    I feel very sorry for whatever teachers and administrators that have to deal with Garry Howe, the parent making a big deal about nothing, hate to see what happens when one of his kids bring home a B!
  • by jedidiah (1196) on Wednesday September 08, 2010 @09:22PM (#33515944) Homepage

    > By who's definition of healthy? Low fat? Low carb? Vegetarian? Vegan? Kosher? How about we just serve what we all can agree on; Nothing.

    Mulligan's Stew would be a good rule of thumb. (too bad it was abandoned)

    So would the idea of only serving "real food" instead of corn meal, soy meal and HFCS.

  • by fiannaFailMan (702447) on Wednesday September 08, 2010 @09:24PM (#33515964) Journal

    By who's definition of healthy? Low fat? Low carb? Vegetarian? Vegan? Kosher? How about we just serve what we all can agree on; Nothing.

    Who's definition? The local education authority, I would imagine.

    I'm pretty sure we can all agree that carbonated sugar drinks containing 100% the recommended daily sugar intake are unhealthy, no?

  • Re:WTF (Score:2, Insightful)

    by AnonymousClown (1788472) on Wednesday September 08, 2010 @09:26PM (#33515984)
    I'll speculate.

    Salesman of expensive system takes school district decision maker out for dinner and whatnot and explains how this will solve their compliance issues - it's high tech after all!

    School guy says, yeah but why don't we just feed them what's required by law?

    Salesguy: But this is high tech! By the way, here's the literature and specs of the system in this briefcase - you can keep this old thing. [fashionindie.com]

    Schoolguy: Well, it is for the good of the children! Where do I sign?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 08, 2010 @09:28PM (#33515998)

    I used to take $1.25 to school every day for lunch. Today a kid would get robbed and killed for that much

    Your parents said the same thing when they were your age, and your kids will say the same when they are your age.

  • by nomadic (141991) <nomadicworld@gma ... inus threevowels> on Wednesday September 08, 2010 @09:32PM (#33516014) Homepage
    By who's definition of healthy? Low fat? Low carb? Vegetarian? Vegan? Kosher? How about we just serve what we all can agree on; Nothing.

    There are a couple of foods that are by universal definition, healthy. Lettuce, spinach, low-mercury fish, most varieties of beans, cucumbers, zucchini, broccoli, olives (and olive oil), blueberries, almonds, and plenty more.
  • by santajon (22325) on Wednesday September 08, 2010 @09:34PM (#33516026) Homepage

    Seriously! My elementary had a PIN code to pay for lunch over 20 years ago. It was a very helpful system that allowed parents to deposit money into the lunch account. Kids didn't have to worry if they had money or not in the account either. The account would go negative and a letter would be generated to be sent home reminding the parent to deposit money into the account.

    The only difference between then and now is that school districts are watched under a microscope about what food is being fed to the kids. So now the lunch lady records what food you eat so the school can use that data to improve the food and prove they are meeting state/federal guidelines. Where is the harm in that?

    I'd certainly like any school to stop my kid from draining his lunch account by buying nothing but Twinkies!

  • by Rob the Bold (788862) on Wednesday September 08, 2010 @09:36PM (#33516044)

    When I was in public school we didn't even have a choice - everybody's meal was exactly the same. Other than outliers with food allergies, why aren't they doing that? No need for any of this technology crap (which, I'd be surprised if it weren't a sweet-heart corporate socialism deal for some company that is owned by a member of the school board) and they probably save money by streamlining preparation and purchasing too.

    I was thinking that myself. I don't recall getting any choice in my cafeteria food until 7th grade, when I could choose lunch 1 or lunch 2. If I really caught a wild hare, I could buy a second milk or an ice cream sandwich.

    There has been a great deal of publicity in Iowa recently about the amount of junk food available in the cafeterias and vending machines in schools. So much so that parents and other citizens have been demanding that the legislature do something to ensure that kids didn't eat only twinkies and potato chips for lunch. And I can understand that motivation. When I was in school, a parent sent a kid to school with lunch money and the worst thing that happened was they traded their spice cake for a lunchbox kid's ding dong. Unlike back then, until very recently, you sent the kid to school with lunch money and they could feast on snickers. And parents were annoyed at this.

    Certainly the PIN solution sounds silly, but I have a feeling that some school administrator is just trying to stick it to the parents a little for horning in on his racket. After all, it had been profitable for school districts to sell concession concessions. And now that money is drying up.

  • The source (Score:3, Insightful)

    by fiannaFailMan (702447) on Wednesday September 08, 2010 @09:39PM (#33516054) Journal

    Check out the source of the story, folks. It says at the top of the page that it's coming from an organisation called "Fox News, Fair and Balanced".

    Just thought you should know.

  • by fiannaFailMan (702447) on Wednesday September 08, 2010 @09:49PM (#33516110) Journal

    I don't really see the huge deal here.

    I have a theory about why it's a big deal. The story is coming from Fox News, the same organisation that is owned by Rupert Murdoch who just made a big walloping donation to the GOP, has kicked up a stink about a so-called "ground zero mosque" that they actually supported nearly a year ago when the story first broke, and are now approaching mid-term elections with the smell of Democrat blood in their nostrils. Anything that helps to build up a picture of "Americans losing their freedoms" is just part of a broader campaign to portray everything that's happening in the world as bad ever since that black dude got elected. So "School implements technology to comply with laws combating the obesity epidemic" becomes "Big brother in Iowa" with the requisite question mark on the end to fool the impressionable reader into thinking that this piece of commentary is actually an NPOV news story.

    Meta-moderators, please pay attention on this one. This is neither a troll nor flamebait, it's a valid comment. As the OP says, there is no -1 disagree option.

  • Re:Hypocrisy (Score:2, Insightful)

    by caturday (1197847) on Wednesday September 08, 2010 @09:56PM (#33516160)
    You don't have to buy a school lunch.
  • Re:indoctrination (Score:4, Insightful)

    by sjames (1099) on Wednesday September 08, 2010 @09:56PM (#33516162) Homepage

    You're not going to send your five year-old to school with a pocket of cash for lunch.

    That's how it used to work and it was never that big a deal.

  • by Gybrwe666 (1007849) on Wednesday September 08, 2010 @10:01PM (#33516214)

    You know, I scanned the first 75 replies or so and I cannot recall a single one being from someone who actually claimed to have a kid in a school. So here's my take on the situation, as someone who has had 5 kids in school.

    1) This isn't news. This has been going on for a long time now, as school districts strive to stop handling money. As a parent, I would *FAR* rather write a check every few months (or, better yet, this year they take Paypal!) to pay for my kids lunches, than try to find the exact damn change every day for my six year old.

    2) I have a child who has struggled with weight issues from birth. Seeing as how she has two rail thin sisters (and they eat the same things), we have been working with her for about a year to emphasize better food choices and controlled portions. However, the simple fact is that schools do have choices in the cafeterias, especially starting in middle school. As such, I consider it a good tool for me to keep track of all my kids *SPENDING* and eating habits. I can tell if my high school freshman is guzzling down four packages of twinkies a day, or eating a real meal.

    3) What, exactly, does anyone believe the schools will do with this information? They are already legally restricted in terms of dietary requirements (by state and federal regulation) and they are already legally restricted from divulging personal information of students. So, does anyone her seriously believe that they will start selling Hostess the names and eating habits of every child? Or that they will start writing contracts with companies simply to, what? Increase profit margins? Violate laws by bringing in unhealthy foods? Sorry, it won't happen.

    I think that the bottom line here is that this really isn't a privacy violation. It's a tool to allow parents to control diet and spending of kids who might not be able to make the best decisions about such issues.

    Bill

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 08, 2010 @10:05PM (#33516236)

    No thanks. At least not in high school. If I want a soda and the school's going to pull some lame crap like disabling the soda machines during the day, i'll just walk to the CVS that's 3 minutes from my school for soda. Really if the only reason the kids aren't constantly drinking soda and eating candy is because they CAN'T, when they're older and they CAN they will have some issues.

  • Re:indoctrination (Score:4, Insightful)

    by jesseck (942036) on Wednesday September 08, 2010 @10:08PM (#33516244)
    That's exactly what my two school-age kids (1 and 2 grades) have to do. They learn a 6-digit pin, and that is used to deduct funds from their lunch account. In turn, my wife and I put money in the account when funds get low. This claim is similar to saying McDonald's tracks your credit card number, to determine what you eat, so they can "suggestively sell" that Big Mac you crave.

    You know, maybe I need to patent that process.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 08, 2010 @10:13PM (#33516278)
    That's nice, but I can't find anything on that list that I would eat - at least not enough for a meal (almonds and blueberries are fine, but do not a meal make). As a super taster most of those things just don't go down (on the fish it depends, some are OK, some are not - salmon for instance is NOT OK).

    Much of that stuff, to me, is "the food that food eats". You know, "beef, it's what's for dinner.". Kind of like PETA - People Eating Tasty Animals - says.
  • Re:indoctrination (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Peach Rings (1782482) on Wednesday September 08, 2010 @10:34PM (#33516414) Homepage

    I don't even understand this idea that data about your eating habits is yours to keep secret. It's not like going to a doctor. If you ask the lunch lady for mac and cheese, and no chicken thank you, she's not legally bound to respect your privacy.

    People seem to be saying "the human element is fine, but systematic tracking of eating habits is a concern" but that doesn't make sense. Either it's protected or not, there's no sense of security in relying on people's poor memory to ensure your privacy. If someone wants to spy on you and know what you're eating for lunch, then they can ask the lunch lady, there's no expectation of privacy.

  • by tlambert (566799) on Wednesday September 08, 2010 @10:51PM (#33516550)

    Wow, you just named a lot of allergens!

    I know someone allergic to lettuce. I dated someone who was allergic to fish. A lot of people are allergic to legumes. Almonds are a common allergen, as are most tree nuts.

    Google can find you examples of famous people with allergies to every one of those things you mentioned.

    -- Terry

  • by T Murphy (1054674) on Wednesday September 08, 2010 @11:02PM (#33516642) Journal
    Before someone says picky eaters just have to deal with it, keep in mind kids may just go without food than eat their vegetables (especially without a parent around). Healthy food is a good idea, but making the lunch taste good to the kids is the most important criteria- without that you'll just teach kids healthy food tastes bad as a rule (which can really be a problem). I'm not saying there's no such thing as a healthy menu that kids will like, but if the meal planner works with healthy food lists like the GP's*, they'll be catering to an adult palate, not a kid's.

    *GP may or may not have intended the list as a kid's menu, but there are certainly people out there who would.
  • Re:indoctrination (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Capt. Skinny (969540) on Wednesday September 08, 2010 @11:08PM (#33516694)

    she's not legally bound to respect your privacy

    This way of thinking is why we have more laws than anyone can keep track of. Do you really want to live in a society where the goal of the legal system is to completely and fully represent an "ideal" system of ethics? Perhaps the lunch lady gabbing about what your 5-year-old has for lunch is a bad example (anecdotal observations of this data are probably less than worthless), but in general should we really justify an activity by pointing out that there is no law against it (or excuse lack of an action by pointing out that there is no law obligating the action)?

  • Re:indoctrination (Score:3, Insightful)

    by KingAlanI (1270538) on Wednesday September 08, 2010 @11:09PM (#33516696) Homepage Journal

    At my high school, we had an hour break and were allowed to leave, so the nearest McDonalds, nearest pizzeria and such got a lot of business.
    But as I later did in college, I packed lunch very often, both to save $ and avoid making the trip.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 08, 2010 @11:29PM (#33516812)

    Make them take it doesn't mean that it will actually be eaten...

    Make them use a PIN doesn't mean it will actually be eaten...

  • Adult vs. child (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Roger W Moore (538166) on Wednesday September 08, 2010 @11:51PM (#33516936) Journal

    then of course, there's the human factor of being able to choose wtf we want to eat. sometimes, it's ok to say 'fuck science, I want a burger and fries.'

    For an adult I completely agree...but as an adult you are deemed to be aware of the consequences of your actions whereas children are not. It is reasonable to expect an adult to know that it they eat a burger and chips every day there will be health consequences and so this is likely to temper the enthusiasm of most adults. However a 5 year old is extremely unlikely to be that restrained and will quite likely reason "I like burgers so I'll order one" every single day.

    To me this school program sounds enlightened. It lets the kids choose what they want but still monitors them so that if they do make bad choices like burgers every single day they can take corrective action. This is EXACTLY what schools should do: let them make their own choices and then catch them if they make bad ones and the teach them about why the choices are bad. That way when they do become adults they are used to making decisions and, being aware that those decisions have consequences, their decisions will be informed ones.

  • Re:indoctrination (Score:3, Insightful)

    by tibit (1762298) on Thursday September 09, 2010 @12:40AM (#33517164)

    How on Earth is it "dehumanization" to enter your fine account number at the "register" in order to deduct lunch funds from your account?! Get real.

  • by tibit (1762298) on Thursday September 09, 2010 @12:57AM (#33517246)

    I'd get off the "unnatural toxin" bandwagon. The most potent toxins known (lowest LD50) are all synthesized directly by biological systems, not by men running lab equipment. Just because something is an additive, it doesn't mean it's toxic to humans.

    I'd really like to see how people get rid of allergies by changing their diet, other than a few corner cases. Citations please?

  • by o'reor (581921) on Thursday September 09, 2010 @05:06AM (#33518358) Journal
    Man, mod this guy up. Fox has been at work in the last 15 years on getting out angry mobs against anything that did not strictly follow the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld dogma. The "teabaggers" are mostly FOX's creatures (with the help of neocon think tanks and their money). BTW, did we hear FOX yelling at the PATRIOT Act, which really instated a Big Brother police state ? No we didn't. Duh !
  • Re:indoctrination (Score:3, Insightful)

    by somersault (912633) on Thursday September 09, 2010 @06:01AM (#33518640) Homepage Journal

    Just like then, you can get pizzas, hot dogs, hamburgers, pastries, sweets and pop

    Makes you wonder, why are kids so fat these days when they have quality dining like this available?

    Actually the first three are relatively healthy, but the last three.. welcome to obe-city.

  • by Pharmboy (216950) on Thursday September 09, 2010 @08:48AM (#33519598) Journal

    You are arguing for the sake of arguing. Getting the school system to agree on a list of "don't have" items in order to make the menu healthier is trivial. It gets more difficult as you break the list down, but if they have snack and cola machines in the school, then getting rid of those is the easiest first step.

    People might not all agree on what is perfectly healthy, but they generally agree on what is UNhealthy: salty, greasy or sugar laden foods.

  • by jedidiah (1196) on Thursday September 09, 2010 @11:00AM (#33522030) Homepage

    > What do you mean by "real food"?

    >> instead of corn meal, soy meal and HFCS.

    That pretty much sums it up right there. Nothing that is terribly industrialized.

    Sounds like I stumbled upon a nerve. Perhaps those psuedo-meats you probably ate as a "vegetarian".

    Vegetarian eating is not for the clueless. Humans are not herbivores. You can quickly do damage by doing it wrong.

    Radical veganism is why this nonsense food pyramid has been imposed upon us and why the nation is so fat.

    It's an inherently unbalanced viewpoint that's divorced from reality.

    The old approach was simply less harmful to fewer people.

  • by tibit (1762298) on Thursday September 09, 2010 @01:11PM (#33524190)

    I'd think the major contributing annoyance is that complete and honest ingredient lists may not be readily available for stuff we eat. It'd help if there were online tools where you could enter a bunch of UPC codes, arrive with a superset of ingredients, and get guidance for doing binary searches for culprit(s).

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