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to eat or not eat in the classroom

To Eat or Not To Eat In the Classroom: American Youth’s Food Culture

It has been a whirlwind few months and my feet are just touching the ground. We are back in Pau, my kids back in school and I am back writing on the blog. The next articles are snapshots of what I saw while visiting the States, in regard to how American youth eat and what I believe is a food culture crises. But there are always two sides to the story and that is where I need your input. We can debate on issues, you tell me where I am wrong and maybe you can see my side of the story. I might be more objective because I live outside America but at the same time this distance provides a subjective bias, because I don’t live the American daily life to understand this changing American food culture.

This first article is on the art of eating french fries and taking notes at the same time.

To Eat or Not To Eat In the Classroom

to eat or not eat in the classroom


My daughter and I took a guided tour of a university while we were in America last month. We were impressed: everyone was so friendly and enthusiastic and the university system is set up ‘the American way’ to be as efficient and easy as possible while learning and getting the most out of a university experience. Our lovely tour guide who I will call Stella was even a student herself, she shared her adventure and love of being at this school. We visited a cafeteria on campus, it showed a typical American atmosphere, large and airy with a layout conducive to social interaction. Then Stella told us the ‘good news.’ If a student didn’t have time to eat lunch in the cafeteria he or she could swipe their meal card and pick up a hot take out meal. In fact, that happens often to Stella, she has four classes back to back, so she needs to bring in her meal during her lectures. A hot meal: french fries and burger type of meal.

That is when I raised a question: “you are allowed to bring lunch to eat in the classroom?”

Sweet and young Stella looked at me perplexed. “what do you mean?”

Then I realized I should stop asking this question. I could tell from Stella’s face that I was asking a question that everyone knew the answer to. Of course you are allowed to bring food into the classroom. This is America, you can eat wherever and whenever you want.

But I had to keep going so I asked Stella, “how do you eat french fries and take notes at the same time?” “Isn’t it hard to do both together?”

And she looked at me with an innocent face and said “no.”

The American Food Culture in a Crisis?

to eat or not eat in the classroom

I have been living too long outside America to see face to face how the food culture has evolved. I was shocked that it seemed normal to Stella to bring a hot lunch into a university lecture and eat in the classroom and concentrate on the professor at the same time. I was surprised that she didn’t schedule a lunch period into her lessons, and more surprised that Stella is not the only one doing this. I asked my daughter if she thought I was overreacting. I told her that I don’t remember ever seeing anyone bring in meals in the classroom when I was a university student. Coffee yes, water of course. But a full hot meal? Never. My daughter, who eats in the French school system understood what I meant. Yes she still thought I was making a big deal about it. But “you don’t understand, this is bad to eat lunch like this!” I told her. The French would never do this. You stop and take a pause to eat, meals are a social time. This ‘detachment’ to food and lack of priority to make meals sacred moments is America’s food culture crisis. If the American youth find eating like this ‘normal’ it is going to be difficult to ‘go back’ to what I think is normal. And that is to take a moment to stop and take a break, to sit down and eat a meal at a table. This is normal.

What do you think?

The debate on whether to allow food in the classroom

What is your opinion? Should food be allowed in the university classroom? What about in high school? Should we ‘allow’ food to be eaten everywhere and at anytime? Isn’t this a type of freedom?

to eat or not eat in the classroom

From two surveys with Debate.org: 79%-81% of those who answered said that food should be allowed in class.

And teachers at least in high school, allow some food in class because the students are hungry and cannot concentrate (another problem in American society, too many kids are going to school hungry which should be less of the case at a university?)

Here is an article from Community Health magazine that pushes strongly the opinion that food should be allowed in class. Quoting from the post, “Students, especially high school students, should not have to wolf down something at their locker and use only the water fountain between classes. This is neither healthy nor efficient.” I disagree. Eat breakfast at home and hydrate well and you will not need to ‘wolf something down at your locker or only use the water fountain between classes!’ Other cultures survive fine by not eating in classrooms, why is the American food culture the exception?

eat in the classroom

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7 Responses to To Eat or Not To Eat In the Classroom: American Youth’s Food Culture

  1. Oola June 6, 2017 at 05:37 #

    I am a high school teacher and have learned the value of eating most of my food at meals. I do not like letting students eat during class, though I feel bad that some do arrive with no breakfast. We have a short break midway through the morning so no one who had breakfast needs to go more than a few hours without something, if she needs it. Also, our school starts at 7:10 a.m. for most students (I start later). Do French schools start that early? That can complicate it for those who don’t eat before they get to school. On the other hand, I traveled in Nepal years ago. It was common there for people to rise early and work for a few hours before having any food. In the States now, even athletes are training in the “fasted” state, meaning some work out before eating anything during the day. It is more a matter of habit. But I am not liked very much for my stance. (I’m not liked for trying to “outlaw” cell phones, too.

    • mbrighton June 13, 2017 at 13:41 #

      Dear Oola, Thank you very much for your input. French schools start around 7:55 and most kids eat breakfast before school. Eating in a French classroom is definetly forbidden, but you could drink water or coffee.

  2. AZ@...And a Dash of Cinnamon September 17, 2016 at 00:20 #

    I would have to agree with Deanna, the problem with our culture is that there is too much emphasis on “go, go, go” have to do everything and not take time for yourself etc. I feel like we are forced and pushed to fit as much in as possible. It’s terrible. I think other cultures have such a better work/life balance that is so much healthier than here. As a personal story, I didn’t get to eat lunch or take any breaks all week at all. (This was frequent during the past couple months for me as well). I would have gotten yelled at by someone if I even asked to stop and collect myself and take a lunch break. So I find myself scarfing food in a matter of seconds when I can if I even get the chance to do that and then find myself bingeing when I get home because I didn’t get to eat all day. It’s really awful. So if I’m lucky enough to have a lecture, then I’m for sure going to eat during it because it’s my only chance to actually eat. However, I would 100% prefer to be able to separate the two for sure if that were an option.
    AZ@…And a Dash of Cinnamon recently posted..PB&B Oatmeal [Clean, Vegan]

    • mbrighton September 20, 2016 at 15:53 #

      Dear AZ @..And a Dash of Cinnamon. Thanks so much for your input and personal story. But…Oh la la….Why no lunch breaks? You must be ready to collapse.

  3. Deanna Segrave-Daly September 15, 2016 at 20:16 #

    I ultimate agree but I think the bigger issue is – and I’m talking more K-12 schedules, is that there is not enough time allotted to eat a leisurely meal in the middle of the day in school. Of course there’s a multitude of reasons for this but clearly something else has got to give to make that a priority. My sister teaches at a private Quaker school and kids are assigned to small tables (so different grades eat with each other) and each kid as a role (one gathers the silveware, one clears the table, etc.) so they literally sit down at lunch and have a meal like you would with your family. I love this set-up but so many things would have to change to make that a norm in public schools.

    • mbrighton September 20, 2016 at 15:51 #

      Hi Deanna, my apologies for not getting back sooner. I find your comment intriguing. I didn’t know that there is not enough time allotted to eating a leisurely meal at K-12 schedules. You must know my feelings on this —wrong! I believe that if we need to ‘tackle’ head on the obesity and health issues for children in America, we need to find a compromise in this food culture that does not promote ‘normal’ eating processes. Sitting down at a table to eat for at least 20 minutes-30 minutes should be a normal habit in school. (I don’t mean being on line, but actually sitting at the table for this amount of time). In French schools there is a law that kids must sit for 30 minutes, and this helps for a leisurely lunch and learning ‘hunger and full’ cues. I like your sister’s school 🙂 Thanks for your input ! Informative as usual.

  4. Lety September 14, 2016 at 13:46 #

    Hi, Mary!
    It was a great surprise, for me, when I worked at Ohio State University, seeing a sort of pizza meeting during the weekly department scientific meeting. The group which hosted the seminar, offered pizza and Coke to everybody and people ate during seminars… I was astonished! I considered this idea a good idea. If you’re hungry you cannot pay attention to molecular pathways leading to cancer, but seminars were scheduled ad 12:00, close to lunch time. I would not be as favorable during lessons differently scheduled , i. e. at 9:00 a.m., 10:00 a. m., or at the 4:00 pm. Semply because there is the right time for the right thing. Also because the risk is of eating everything, everywhere at everytime, which is not according with a good food education.

    Brava Mary!
    Un bacio!

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