Op-Ed: Lunchtime at Payton doesn’t serve student equity

By Isabelle Ravanas, Editor-in-Chief

Payton’s bell schedule (right) includes some lunch periods that are significantly earlier than many students are used to. Two of those four lunch blocks are earlier than Jones’s first lunch period (left).

Listening to your gut?

According to the Cleveland Clinic, the healthiest way to eat is to eat unprocessed foods and eat them when you’re hungry. For a lot of Payton students, however, that isn’t attainable. 

Unlike schools such as Jones whose earliest lunches are around 11:30 a.m., Payton’s schedule has lunches as early as 9:44 in the morning, a time considered to be breakfast (or at best, brunch) in American society. Senior Ethan Armstead commented, saying that when he had 2a lunch, he never ate, “unless [he] starved [him]self all morning”, treating 2a like breakfast. Fellow senior, Angie Farzaneh-Far, added on saying that she too skipped breakfast to have what she called “brunch”.

But as Ms. Rivera, a US History and AP Gov teacher, indicates, “you can’t think when you’re hungry.” But, she also noted that “the problem with possibly getting rid of 2a or 6b is you have to find a place for 200-300 students to go and there aren’t enough teachers or sections of classes to accommodate them.” Jones has 11:30 a.m. lunch because it can accommodate it; Payton can’t. 

So, many Payton students turn to snacking. Junior Fiona O’Toole just snacks throughout the day while Freshmen Nevah Matthews always brings a bag of chips during first period to hold herself over. Senior Max G takes it a step further, unpacking his sandwich, cookies, and fruit bar every day during 4/8 block. 

But snacking has two main problems: health and feasibility. According to Mr. Torres, a Biotechnology and AP Biology teacher, snacking is not the best approach to eating throughout the day. “Based on the sciences, we should be eating between 2 to 3 solid meals a day” and that’s it, he explained. Besides the mere timing of snacking, a Harvard School of Public Health publication found that one of the main pitfalls of snacking is the highly processed snacks that are convenient, cheap, and readily available. Many of which ended up in our school vending machines. From Baked Lays to M&M’s, the vending machine selection consists of added sugar, high levels of sodium, and little nutritional value. Angie Farzaneh-Far pointed out that when she had an early lunch, she would eat from the vending machine every other day but when she had a lunch that suited her eating habits, she ate “one hardy lunch and didn’t snack” at all. Ethan Armstead admitted that the dysfunctional lunch and snacking habits led him to a point where M&M’s were his only food for lunch some days. “There were a lot of times where the lack of what I ate or the pure sugar of what I ate would make me crash during the school day,”he explained. 

Additionally, snacking throughout the day is not feasible for some students. As senior Vere Vargas explains, her 4th period teacher banned food in the class because it was distracting. Vere, who often gets hungry long after her 10:36 a.m. lunch, is stuck being hungry or not following the rules. Mr. Torres and Ms. Rivera don’t mind snacking in the classroom as long as it’s not distracting, but Mr. Torres knows “some teachers are completely opposed to having any food in their classroom.” Besides classroom rules, not everyone can afford to pack snacks (especially not healthy ones), as Ms. Rivera points out. The individuals relying on CPS breakfast and lunch don’t get much flexibility when they’re stuck eating breakfast at 8:00 a.m., lunch at 9:44 a.m., and dinner in the evening (potentially 10 hours later).

Though Payton will probably not change its block schedule, it can deal with the way it approaches snacking. First, just as students request classes, they could rank lunch periods to better match their eating patterns (Fiona and Nevah prefer earlier lunches while Ethan and Angie prefer later lunches, for example). Beyond that, Payton could implement school wide policies regarding eating in classrooms to eliminate inconsistencies and help students better plan their daily eating. The final options (and perhaps the least feasible) lie in Payton making healthier and more accessible snacks available to students. Whether that be changing the vending machine selection or providing fruit in the lunchroom, if snacking can’t be avoided, it can at least be healthy and equitable.

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