Thursday, October 31, 2002

Fighting the Current

I'm not one of those people who has any delusion that the world is a nice place. In fact, whenever someone has newly discovered something horrible that goes on here, I feel kind of like "Aww, aren't they cute, just figuring out how much the world sucks." But still, every now and again something strikes me, slapping me in the face with the cold water of reality and haunting me for ages to come.

In the Social Marketing class I'm taking this semester (that's also kind of my forte, so to speak...) our big project is to prepare a plan to market Coordinated School Health Programs to school superintendants; focusing on the implementation of healthy, nutritious lunch programs and nutrition education for students. We just got back some results of our secondary research, which consisted primarily of surveys we sent out from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health and Dept. of Education (who we're doing the project for).

I knew it was going to be a daunting task at best, especially with the meager budget we were allotted. But nearly all the surveys we got back said the same kinds of things: "yes, our lunches suck, there's not enough time to eat them, we have no health education program....but we don't have the money or personnel to accomplish these things..."

And so they don't. The budget's been stretched to the breaking point, and what little there is goes to try and improve MCAS scores. My plan of attack is to focus on how those scores would/will increase when you get some good food into these kids.

I think the project pretty much rocks. But one survey has kept me up the two nights since we got them back. In answer to an open-ended question about the quality of the school lunches, the school's principal wrote in: "Our lunches are extremely poor quality. The meat is dried out and resembles hockey pucks, and everything is frozen and poorly reheated. They do NOT taste good AT ALL. But, the children at this school are hungry. They eat it all anyway."

Jesus. The magnitude of the problem hits you there. The district is too poor to fund a decent lunch program, its citizens are too poor to feed their children. What kind of chance do these kids have for a "normal" (relatively speaking) life? How the hell am I ever, ever going to make even the smallest dent in problems like these?

Some days, I swear, I want to just throw up my hands in despair at the freaking BIGNESS of all the problems I tackle in this field. I want to just give up and work for some big, evil corporation and live like an ostrich, my neck stylishly wrapped in a Burberry scarf.

But I can't. I just can't. I would toss and turn at night, haunted by images of those kids hungrily wolfing down their hockey puck lunches and wishing they had a bagel like the one I'm cramming in my mouth right now....

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