Great guest post on the awesome Fed Up With School Lunch blog from Elizabeth Puccini of NYC Green Schools. It’s about Elizabeth’s efforts to get “Meatless Mondays” in her pre-kindergarten son’s public school. Our school’s cafeteria committee also got permission for Meatless Mondays (yay!) but we were told we couldn’t call it that (boo!). Why? Supposedly because the Department of Education doesn’t want to anger its meat vendors. We’ve been told to call it Magic Mondays. (How about Muzzled Mondays? Misspeak Mondays? Meshuggeneh Mondays?) I haven’t posted much about our school food activism because it seems private. (I know, right? Someone who writes about her red-hot boobage on the interwebs says that what happens in school food committee stays in school food committee? Nonsensical. But I worry about derailing our efforts, sharing stories that aren’t mine to share, alienating parents who may not be on the same page, and annoying the powers that be that might punish our school. Whereas my mastitic mammaries are mine alone.)
Anyway, as I’ve said here before, the meat currently approved for use in American schools would not pass muster in our fast-food restaurants. As USA Today reported last year, McDonald’s, Burger King and Costco “test the ground beef they buy five to 10 times more often than the USDA tests beef made for schools during a typical production day.” And chicken? “The USDA has supplied schools with thousands of tons of meat from old birds that might otherwise go to compost or pet food. Called ‘spent hens’ because they’re past their egg-laying prime,” the birds don’t meet KFC’s or Campbell’s Soup’s quality standards. Read the whole USA Today article. It’ll turn your stomach.
I admire all the parents who are working hard to make school lunch better for their kids. And I need to give a shout-out to our lunch ladies and our school food reps at the Department of Education, who have been remarkably good-humored and willing to talk to us and do what they can to help. But real change is hard. It’s gonna have to come from higher up the food chain — we’re talking federal change that doesn’t kowtow to cattle industry lobbyists. Schools like ours can’t afford to opt out and buy our own stuff, the way wealthier public schools (and of course private schools) do. And there are complicated battles to wage about how to get kids to enjoy chicken that doesn’t come in a pulverized nugget, beef that isn’t ground, and most of all, fruits and veggies and whole grains and legumes — food that’s not beige. That last one’s not just a battle for the Department of Education; it’s even bigger. It’s the one I have a hard time coming up with answers for. Yeah, I know I gotta watch the Jamie Oliver show. It’s on the TiVo, OK?
Addendum: I had no idea Meatless Mondays had such a long cultural history, dating back to WW2. The story’s here. Of course Glenn Beck and the CEO of the American Meat Institute hate it.