Saturday, January 9, 2010


What happened to school lunches?

When I was a kid, every day would involve the ordeal of moving through the school lunch line where scary cafeteria ladies would slap quantities of unknown substances onto divided ugly green plastic trays while simultaneously ordering us to move the line along. The menu would say things like "creamed corn" or "Salisbury steak," but truthfully, it was a mystery. After attempting to nourish ourselves, we would dump the tray's remaining contents into the trash and hand it over to someone armed with a high-powered water nozzle. The assumption was that the tray would reappear the next day for "different" epicurean delights.

Now, I'll admit, this was back in the dark ages. We didn't have the internet, no telephones in our pockets and when we wanted to be sure not to miss a television show, we'd have to put something called a videotape into a machine and program it to record our program. In fact, in the early 1980's, we were so bereft of technology that taking a photograph involved a substance called "film" that had to be "processed!"

But oh, how times have changed! The day of the green plastic tray is gone, replaced by a disposable styrofoam tray which is tossed in the trash after it's purpose is served. Many of the schools in which I work don't even seem to have a working kitchen. One has what can best be described as a large closet in front of which a table is set up at lunchtime. On this table "lunch" is handed out. What passes for school lunch these days is a far cry from the over-cooked green beans of my youth. Cafeteria ladies these days simply hand over plastic sealed cups of fruit, a slice of pizza right out of the Domino's box, or chicken in the Panda Express container. Recently I had the pleasure of opening microwave-heated cellophane bean burritos and peeling tangerines for twenty-four Pre-Kindergarten kids. And if you didn't think the dignity of the school lunch could sink even lower, in some places the cardboard carton of milk has been replaced by a bag 'o milk which is punctured by a straw for consumption.

It is phenomenal to me that in a time where medical professionals are screaming about the increasing weight of children and their lack of physical activity, we are not even attempting to serve them a balanced meal. In very influential years when kids are pummelled with brand-name advertisers everywhere they look outside of the classroom, we outsource their nutrition to fast-food chains.

Am I alone in my observations on this? Am I witnessing some bizarre political cost-cutting measure only in my state or is this common in all areas? Are school lunches (which in some neighborhoods may be the most nutritious meal children receive all day) really the place to make these sacrifices? I can't imagine that American voters, who seem to be under the impression that all teachers are lazy and incompetent would approve of this if they knew it applied to their child. And how can we educate to the importance of good nutrition when we clearly do not model the approved strategies?

No comments:

Post a Comment