Monday, September 20, 2010

Dark Tales from the School Lunch Room

The Main Course

In 2008, the largest meat recall in history occurred. 143 million pounds of beef were recalled. 37 million pounds of that meat had already been served to the one slaughterhouse's primary buyer: the school lunch program. The recall was based on the slaughter of downed, or sick, animals. Most of the animals were former dairy cows that could no longer produce. In other words, pretty low quality stuff.

Three of the six largest meat recalls in history are due to contamination from E. coli 0157:H7. The bacteria can cause things like renal failure, coma, and death.

In 2009, The National School Lunch Program purchased 3.5 million pounds of a substance called "pink slime." Pink slime is a meat "filler" product that is made by taking the cheapest of meat scraps from many different slaughtering plants, pushing these through a machine to create a paste, separate the fat out, then combine the resulting paste with ammonia to allegedly kill pathogens. Often the addition of pink slime to meats increases the pathogen count, so the meat ends up with ammonia AND nasty bacteria. Cost savings to use the slime added up to only three cents per pound. Yet, 70 percent of the burgers consumed in the US contain, you guessed it, pink slime.

If you are having the school's chicken nuggets today instead of beef, here's a look at the ingredients and how they are made.

HFCS, It Does a Body Good?

Actually, this should be milk. Or what kids drink should be.
On the (Dark) Side

If you are looking for the healthier items on the menu, the optional side dishes are often the best choices. But, canned and bland as a whole, few kids are likely to choose them.

Let's be honest here, even if the vegetable sides were school garden fresh and prepared by chefs, some of the kids won't eat them. Even in the home of Jamie Oliver, Britain's new health minister is reviewing Oliver's school food program efforts since many kids will not participate. So, here is the dark side of school lunch. Darker than the sides of cheetos, froot snacks, sherbet and "tri-taters" that might make it onto kids' plates. Perhaps darker even than pink slime. Ready for it?

School lunch is one meal a day.

Many of the reasons kids won't eat healthier foods when these are available and well-prepared have to do with those other two meals of the day, and the first five years of meals they experienced before kindergarten. If you want to fix school lunch, you have to fix home dinner.

Would you like a bit of extra sauce? Food alone won't fix it.

There needs to be health education, innovative programs that engage kids in the process of growing or cooking foods, or helping shape their menus. These is the good side of programs like Berkeley's, where gardening and cooking education have been shown to increase vegetable consumption for a significant number of kids. These programs need to happen at home, too. It's just going to take a whole lot more than that one meal.


Given that the average school lunch has sweetened yogurt with a sugary muffin as a protein choice daily, flavored milks that have as much sugar as soda, canned fruit in heavy syrup and froot snacks as sides, and HFCS in baked goods and even entrees for "flavoring," do we really need dessert?

Appetizers, Related posts in this series

1 comment:

Ellie Hirsch-Mommy Masters said...

Visiting you from Always looking for great recipes and now following your blog. Please come visit mine and follow as well. Thanks.
Ellie Hirsch