Eating badly

The hamburger seemed to come complete in a cellophane wrapper. All that was required was to take it out and heat it in a microwave oven. There was even a slice of cheese, that appeared more plastic than cheese-like.

“Healthy eating, sir?”

“Pure protein,” he laughed. (There were probably a lot of other contents as well, carbohydrates and fat being among them, but it’s more than forty years since I do d that lesson at school).

“It’s the only chance I get to eat rubbish,” he said. “I was going to go to MacDonald’s, but this was cheaper.”

I recalled the healthy lunch policy adopted by the school board of management when I was working in Dublin. Chocolate of any sort was only allowed as a treat on Friday. From Monday through to Thursday, there was no chance of a Penguin or a Viscount, or any of the dozens of similar chocolate-coated biscuits that occupied half an aisle in the supermarket. Children would come with lunch boxes that included things like raw carrot and raw broccoli and sit and eat contentedly.

Healthy lunches are not the first priority for some students at the school. Having food at all would be welcome for some of them.

Waiting to go into assembly, one student looked pale. “Are you alright?”

“I’m not feeling well, sir.”

“Did you have breakfast this morning?”

“No, there was nothing to have.”

“What do you usually have?”

Weetabix, sir.”

There can have been no Weetabix this week, for the same student had said on Monday that breakfast had been creamed rice. It had been creamed rice or a burger, and the rice had seemed nicer.

The student said they would go and say they felt sick and that someone would do something. The relevant people seem aware of the situation; it’s wasn’t for an unpaid student to interfere, not there was anything I could have done, anyway.

Someone passing through the town would think it a model of southern English prosperity. The refurbishment of the seafront and the pier by the local authority cost some £85 million; there is money when it is wanted for projects that suit the town’s self-image. Look at the government’s index of multiple deprivation website, and there is an are of the town that ranks among the poorest 1% in the country. The same website shows that the local authority has the third highest level of inequality in the country.

There are no votes for any politician in ensuring someone doesn’t eat creamed rice for breakfast, but it can’t be beyond the wit of institutions to ensure that no-one stands hungry at school. Even a microwave burger would be better.

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