Magazine | December 16, 2013, Issue

Puttin’ in the Ritz

When I made my daughter’s lunch for school, I occasionally included the Sacrificial Carrots, or some variant. You put in a veggie to do your part as a good parent who tried, knowing the bag will come back with two warm carrots gnawed like a beaver who tests his teeth on a steel light pole and quickly gives up.

Sometimes I’d toss in an Uncrustable: a miracle wad of prefab goo that went from frozen to pliable by lunchtime. The spongy white exterior was “bread,” although it tasted like mashed-up hydrated Communion wafers; the peanut butter provided “protein”; and the jelly provided “fruit,” in the sense that an electron microscope could detect two or three atoms of actual grape. The reason that no one called it the Loaf o’ Kiddie Crack is that crack has more vitamins. I used them only in emergencies, and felt as if I’d failed to keep my daughter’s corn-derived sucrose consumption below an acre a year.

Turns out I was father of the year. From the Canadian Broadcasting Company website: “A Manitoba mom is steamed after she packed lunches for her children in daycare and was slapped with a $10 fine for not including grains in the meal. Kristen Bartkiw said the Rossburn area daycare supplemented her children’s meals with Ritz crackers.”

Ritz? How many kids slump over at 2 p.m., eyes glazed, pencil sliding out of their boneless hand, because they didn’t have a Ritz for lunch? Will Child Protective Services put the child in a house where everyone puts on a feedbag at lunchtime and masticates a mouthload of salt-dusted processed grain?

It’s the fine that really makes it special, though. It’s necessary to give the dietary requirements some teeth; if you don’t penalize parents, they might choose their lunches based on what they want their kids to eat. A stick of celery and some lug nuts. Three sheets of paper, each with “pie” written in a different language. One single Ritz, which is downright provocative: Obviously they know about the Ritz Rule, yet this is an insubstantial portion. How do we prorate the fine?

Let’s just cut to the chase: Parents have no right to pack their kids’ lunches, because they might contribute to the Obesity Epidemic, which leads to fat kids, which leads to poor self-image because everyone should be thin like the people in magazines, which contribute to poor self-image because people compare themselves with the pictures, which — hold on, something’s missing. Well, never mind. Broccoli rocks! Smiling kids in a stock photo in a brochure prove it.

The Uncrustable PB&J could be racist, of course. Verenice Gutierrez, Portland, Ore., principal, says mentioning PB&J could constitute White Privilege. Or White Bread Privilege, if you like. “What about Somali or Hispanic students, who might not eat sandwiches?” Gutierrez was quoted as saying by the local paper.

#page#If a child offers a PB&J Uncrustable to a kid whose culture is more pita-centric, this would have to be marked down in the child’s permanent record, which follows him for the rest of his life, even to his oral finals in college. Well, you’ve given a splendid defense of the idea that Shakespeare was married to the Earl of Oxford, but it says here that you offered a peer a sandwich whose cultural assumptions marginalized the child’s identity. We’re very sorry.

There was a time when we’d say, “But of course that’s ridiculous.” But of course it’s not. In England, where sensitive school officials probably ban the films of Kevin Bacon because the posters might be offensive to 16 perpetually outraged storefront imams, a teacher decided to take kids to “a religious workshop about Islam,” as the Telegraph put it. Don’t want your kid to go? Here comes the stigma: “Headteacher Lynn Small wrote to parents and said if kids did not attend a ‘racial discrimination note’ would be made on the pupil’s records and would remain there for their school careers. On top of that, they were also ordered to pay £5 towards the cost of the trip.”

That should cover the Ritz snack for others.

Our grade school took a trip to the local sugar-beet-processing plant, perhaps to demystify the source of the nauseating fog that settled over town when the factory was going full blast. All I remember is one kid heaving up the Wheaties on the factory floor, and everyone else being ushered out before 30 kids involuntarily relinquished their breakfasts. So it’s unlikely any kid who goes to see tapestries and old Korans spotlit under glass will come home and ask the folks to swap out the trip to Euro Disney for a hajj to Mecca. But shouldn’t a parent have a right to decide?

Hahaha! Yes, I know. Well, besides the high-handed insistence that the parents not curse their child with hereditary Thoughtcrime, there’s another idiocy embedded in the teacher’s decision: a belief system is not a race. But obviously the cretins in England — you know, the ones clinging bitterly to their lack of guns and absence of religion — think it’s a race, so the school must visit the sins of the father on the tots.

In the modern world a parent has no more right to object to a field trip than he has the right to send a lunch that fails the state’s mandatory guidelines for reconstituted-grain squares. It’s almost as if cultures with state-run medicine have a proprietary attitude towards children. As if the doctor who hands the parents the kid after it’s been delivered is doing them a favor. We can take it from here, you know. No? Well, fine. We’ll get them at college.

– Mr. Lileks blogs at

James Lileks — James Lileks writes the Athwart column for National Review magazine and is a frequent contributor to the National Review website. He is a prominent voice on Ricochet podcasts.

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