School lunches have gotten worse

School lunches have never had a reputation for high quality. But when I was in school I remember seeing them actually cooking back there on the other side of the steam trays. Sure, they weren’t always cooking anything I liked, but it was … okay.

Except for the pizza. Man, my junior high and high school had awesome pizza. And they introduced me to pizza soup. Theirs was just tomato soup from concentrate poured over croûtons and shredded mozzarella, but I took the idea and made something great.

All of which is a big lead up to that picture you see above. According to the Washington D.C. School District, that’s lunch.

I was stopped dead in my tracks by the lunch being served at my daughter’s elementary school here in the nation’s capital. Look at the photo above and tell me what you see. Do you see the same thing I do? French fries, a bag of Sun Chips, and an 8-ounce carton of strawberry-flavored milk.

Go read the rest of that article for how the district justifies it. It’s an amazing piece of bureaucratic doublespeak.

I’m not sure if there’s been a sudden outburst of interest in the subject, or if I just noticed it because I followed links from one article to the next. But school lunches are getting noticed lately, and the attention is not good.

Take Ilina’s post, Would you eat a school lunch? I’m probably not giving away any big surprise to tell you that the answer for Ilina is, “No.”

Everything in those cafeterias are devoid of nutrition, laden with sugar, teeming with pesticides, pumped with hormones, soaked in additives. Not one green bean crunches. Not one hot dog is nitrite free. Not one milk carton is free of hormones. I challenge you to eat two meals at a public school everyday for a month. You just might give Morgan Spurlock enough fodder for a Supersize Me sequel.

How bad could it really be?

Don’t read this next section if you want to keep enjoying processed food.

No, seriously … If you like your fast food burgers, you don’t want to know this:

To make a long story short: Beef Products buys the cheapest, least desirable beef on offer–fatty sweepings from the slaughterhouse floor, which are notoriously rife with pathogens like E. coli 0157 and antibiotic-resistant salmonella. It sends the scraps through a series of machines, grinds them into a paste, separates out the fat, and laces the substance with ammonia to kill pathogens.

The result, known by some in the industry as “pink slime,” is marketed widely to hamburger makers.

Why would they use something so gross? Do you really have to ask? It’s always about the money. According to the New York Times:

School lunch officials said they ultimately agreed to use the treated meat because it shaved about 3 cents off the cost of making a pound of ground beef … In 2004, lunch officials increased the amount of Beef Products meat allowed in its hamburgers to 15 percent, from 10 percent, to increase savings.

Why doesn’t anybody speak up?

Here’s where it goes from passively evil to downright malignant. A Colorado school teacher tried to do just that and nearly lost her job over it.

Mendy Heaps, a stellar English teacher for years, had never given much thought to the food her seventh-graders were eating. Then her husband, after years of eating junk food, was diagnosed with cancer, diabetes, and high blood pressure and suddenly the french fries, pizza, and ice cream being served in the cafeteria at rural Elizabeth Middle School outside Denver, Col., took on a whole new meaning.

Heaps still has her job, but has received very clear instructions on what she is to teach, and more importantly what not to teach. And she has been ordered to track what students are eating in the cafeteria and:

You will bring to me [the principal] the data showing the economic costs of eliminating the ‘Grab and Go’ line as you have proposed.

In other words, the schools are making so much money serving junk food to kids that they won’t allow a teacher to, you know, teach them about what they’re eating.

Ask your kids … they may already know

Another teacher, this one in Illinois, is blogging about school lunches anonymously. You can start on day 1 for a true carnival of horrors, but the one that sticks with me is the peanut butter and jelly. This should be foolproof, right?

I noticed a LOT of kids with packed lunches today. Maybe they knew something I didn’t.

PBJ used to be the safe option when you didn’t want the main choice. When the kids won’t eat the PBJ, there’s something seriously wrong in the cafeteria.

Go look at that picture and tell me you want your kids eating that. Pay close attention to the nutritional information in the bottom picture. Each sandwich has 28% of the daily recommended calories. And there are two of them. Plus fruit juice, chocolate milk and a fruit cup (probably packed in corn syrup).

Without seeing the labels on the other packages, I’m betting that’s about 70% of the daily recommended calories.

Quick quiz, essay format: What’s one possible reason for the epidemic of childhood Type II diabetes?

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