That Deplorable 'No Such Thing As A Free Lunch' Argument

The illogic of it reveals the cruelty.
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<p>School lunch, Public Domain.</p>

School lunch, Public Domain.

There is an argument taking place that frankly blows my mind. We shouldn’t provide free lunches to children at school — children who have little to no means to eat otherwise — because...

“We need to teach them self-reliance. Grit. We don’t want them to learn that things are just handed to them.”

First of all, this argument is really an excuse. It’s said by people who do not want to aid one another, period. This argument attempts to paste a veneer of “I’m really trying to help them” on horrible intentions.

But also, the illogic of it reveals the cruelty. I mean, why not be consistent?

Parents who are packing lunches for your children today, do not do so. And whatever you do, don’t hand over any lunch money! In fact, don’t provide dinner for them tonight unless they find some way to earn it. The best thing you can possibly imagine is for your kids to come home today carrying a sign that says, “Will work for food.” That’s great! Put them to work! Teach them that nothing is freely given. Teach them they have to earn everything... Their food. Their clothing. Their shelter. Their keep. Their worth.

No one should know that they’re cared for solely because they matter. That’s risky! They might grow up to believe that they and indeed everyone should be supported and included during challenging times, simply and wholly because of their humanity. They might come to believe that they too can share resources and help others also, especially when others go lacking and do not have access to resources otherwise.

But actually... do you know what children learn when we choose not to care for their needs? The fundamental needs of their bodies?

They learn they’re not worth anything.

It harms their bodies and their spirits.

They don’t learn grit. They learn shame. This is not self-empowerment. It’s neglect. And that can impact the trajectory of their lives. We do them a great disservice. Because they’re not worthless or shameful.

Our arguments, intentions, impacts, and inhumanity are shameful.

This piece was first published at Smuggling Grace.

Renee Roederer is the founding organizer of Michigan Nones and Dones, a community for people who are spiritually curious but institutionally suspicious. This community in Southeast Michigan includes people who are religiously unaffiliated (the Nones), people who have left established forms of institutional churches (the Dones), and people who remain connected to particular faith traditions but seek new, emerging visions for their expression.

Please visit Smuggling Grace to subscribe to Renee Roederer’s blog. You can also follow her on Twitter: @renee_roederer.

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