Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The politics of lunch

Recently, the New York Times ran an article about a Colorado school district that has gone back to making lunches from scratch. They even hired a chef who trained at the CIA. And they are finding it is less expensive than feeding the kids the packaged, factory-produced crap they used to.

Other, better writers than I have written reams on this topic. The reasons for the abysmal school lunches in the past few decades are myriad and insidious. A lot of it can be laid at the door of our government; farm politics, subsidies, the actions of PACs, etc.

But we, the people, the parents, have to take our  share of the blame, too. We were totally asleep at the switch when school started feeding that swill to our kids. And it's not like parents didn't know; how may jokes have there been about "Mystery Meat"?

But somehow, it wasn't that important. No one seemed to mind. The kids didn't eat that slop anyway; most of it ended up in the trash. Right?

Circa 1977, in Downriver Detroit, at Seitz Junior High, I remember eating a plate of French fries for lunch every day. A large plate of freshly made, yummy fries. The lunch ladies would give me the stink eye, because French fries alone do not a healthy lunch make. But it was uncool to eat the school lunch. I seem to remember the lunches were cooked on site. We certainly could smell food in the hallways before hand. It wasn't until I moved to Phoenix that I discovered the joys of hot, dreadful, pre-made, frozen, then reheated food; the Pizza Snack! This was a thick paste made of TVP, heavily salted and sugared tomato sauce, and some faux cheese; all wrapped in a thin flour tortilla-like thing, soggy from being microwaved in it's plastic wrapping. I loved them! But on days I felt like a change, I'd get a bean burrito; extra-crispy  around the edges from being deep-fat fried. I don't recall ever drinking milk at lunch after elementary school. (It's a miracle my bone density is as good as it is.) My friends and I would line up at the Snack Bar, get our Pizza Snacks and Cokes and then find a spot to sit somewhere on campus. I never ate my fake food in the cafeteria, unless it was raining. Two reasons; only people without friends sat there, and also, on most days, there was a food fight. Also, the cafeteria was the site of study hall and detention. And who wants to go there? But I digress.

So, lunches at school have been horrible for decades. We are just now getting around to trying to fix it. I, for one, would be happy to pay more taxes for the schools if they would use those funds to feed the kids decently. Hell, if every family chipped in $100 a semester to a food fund, maybe we could at least get some proper meals for the students. And I don't even care if it's not my kids they are feeding; I pack lunches for my kids, and reportedly, they (mostly) eat them. There are some kids for whom school meals are their biggest meal, or their only meals. No kid should be hungry. Children have no control over their families' economic situation; should they be punished for being poor? We need to feed those children. A well-nourished child performs better in school. Better school performance leads to opportunities to better their lives. I am willing to pay for that.

 OK, I'm off my soapbox now. "Nuff said.


  1. You have put me in the mood for a box lunch!

  2. Good read, Jenn. I remember the deep fried burrito at school, too. We ate so much fried, double-fried, baked-then fried foods it's a miracle we didn't need a by-pass by 12th grade!


  3. Amen, sista.

    Until Cal when to this school, she sometimes wanted to buy those 1.25 meals that were god-knows-what. Now, her school lunches cost 7.50, but they are mostly organic, made from scratch and fairly tasty. Harv and I sometimes grumble at the cost, but it's worth it.