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Lingering Memories of School Lunch
by Jill Lufrano
Mar 20, 2012 | 778 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
I woke up today and had one of those epiphany-type moments. My baby boy is one year away from graduating high school.

After my heart finished beating, the cold sweat dried from my forehead and I stopped wondering where the last 17 years went, I began reminiscing about all the memories of his youth.

In my mind, I ran through the lunchtime meals I was treated to through the years as both mom and dad (I was a single mom, you see). Some schools invite parents to Mother’s Day lunch or Father’s Day lunch. I went to both, usually. And, as a reporter, I often covered lunchtime events where I was privy to the behaviors of our offspring when the spying parental eyes are not upon them.

The inside report: Not good. Less than satisfactory. A “D-” at best.

And this was before all of this new Obama business about adding fruits and veggies to their lunches. As many of you know, the feds are reaching onto our children’s lunch plates even more with this new plan to “create healthier school environments by providing healthier food choices,” according to literature from the federal Fruit and Vegetable Program.

Whenever I hear or read the latest report about more initiatives to serve better, more nutritious meals to children, I can’t help but wonder who is distracted behind the wheel on this one. And, has this person ever even experienced a school lunchtime to witness the actual meal-eating habits of our youth?

As I said, I have. It’s not pretty.

I remember one lunchtime when I watched the children carry away their lunch trays filled with a carefully prepared chicken sandwich, a soupy sauce (probably apple in nature), chocolate milk and some type of disgusting dessert action. It was one of those desserts you suck from a plastic tube. Out the other door, in just as quick a fashion, the children were dropping off the trays — minus the chicken sandwich buns, the chocolate milk and the dessert. Over and over again.

I once looked into the plastic garbage can — I don’t know why, it’s one of those disgusting things you don’t want to do but feel you just have to do because of the gross-out factor — and I couldn’t believe what I witnessed: a gigantic pile of chicken patties, soupy sauce, slices of tomatoes, lettuce and other unmentionable mush. There must have been a thousand patties in there. A couple of them did have pint-sized bites and I imagined the tiny person who had mustered the bravado to actually taste the patty. What a champ!

I would estimate that about 95 percent of the children, whose parents had just coughed up $1.75 for this little meal, had just consumed one fluffy bun, a sip of chocolate milk and sugar goo sucked from a tube. And I am sure this was not an unusual occurrence.

Take away the carbs, replace them with additional “nutritious food items” that the children won’t eat unless their parents are forcing them to (“Oh, just try it!! I promise you’ll like it!! I know it tastes like dirt, but it’s good for you. Put ketchup on it, then. Try it or go to your room!!!”), and I don’t know what those tiny little engines will have to run on during the course of the day.

Some parents don’t pay for school lunches. Some mothers and fathers still exist out there who carefully prepare sandwiches, side dishes, drinks and all that, stuff them into bags and give it to the child as he or she heads out the door for school. It’s all very complicated and messy, but it does still happen.

And, then, there are the masses — the brave little people who stand in the snake-like lines every day, waiting for the trays of carefully prepared “nutritionally balanced” meals of fruits and veggies and some type of protein product they may or may not attempt to eat.

In Washoe County, slightly more than 44 percent of all children in the district get free or reduced meals, compared to 40 percent the school year before and 41 percent the year before that. This tells me that nearly half of our district’s children must eat what the cafeteria serves them because they get it as part of their school experience. They don’t have a choice. We’re paying for it, to top the matter off.

Something else came up this week on the matter of school lunches. Much has been discussed about school nutrition following the coronation of the Obamas. Mrs. Obama, in particular. However, it looks like our children will be spared this one factor following a public outcry.

In one week, the nation has become aware of something called “pink slime” and its ouster from school kitchens. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is set to announce it will offer schools a choice in ground beef purchases after many districts found the ammonia-treated ground-beef filler to be a bit disgusting.

Apparently, the children have been eating “pink slime” for years. This stuff is made of “lean, finely textured beef” that is low-cost filler made from fatty meat scraps that are heated to remove most of the fat, then treated with ammonium hydroxide gas to kill bacteria, such as E. coli and salmonella, according to the meat industry. It is reportedly safe. The National Meat Association has also noted that ammonium hydroxide is used in baked goods, puddings and other processed foods.

The USDA is already contracted to buy 111.5 million pounds of ground beef for the National School Lunch Program. About 7 million pounds of that is from Beef Products Inc., maker of the dreaded pink slime, which has determined to dispel misconceptions about its products.

Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., said in a statement that the USDA should go a step further by requiring the additive to be listed as an ingredient on beef sold in supermarkets. But he praised the agency for the new options being given to schools, he told the Associated Press.

“All it takes is a look at a picture of pink slime to understand parents’ concerns that this product doesn’t belong in our school lunchrooms — especially as we are encouraging kids to eat more fruits and vegetables,” Menendez said.

However, activists have started a battle cry over this “pink slime” business. Apparently they have never seen a garbage bucket full of chicken patty slime. But, now that everyone knows about the pink slime, the USDA has announced that in response to requests, it will offer schools a choice of 95 percent lean beef patties made with the filler, or less lean bulk ground beef without it.

My question is, will the children eat either choice? It remains to be seen.

The good news for me is that I really don’t have to worry about my child, or paying for pink slime, chicken patties, veggies or any other lunch-lady meals for much longer. I am entering a whole new phase of worry — the college experience.

This time when I visit his dorm room, I’m definitely not going to look in that trash can.

Jill Lufrano is a reporter at the Sparks Tribune. She can be reached at
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