When Politicians And School Lunches Intersect

What a relief!  Senators in Washington, D.C. are working on legislation that will make school lunch tastier!

Can anyone imagine a more infernal combination than politicians and school lunches?  Each is supremely hellish in its own right; what depths of awfulness might be probed if they intersected?

20101025saladbarAnyone who has ever eaten a school lunch won’t forget the experience.  Hairy, fatty chicken, reheated “Johnny Marzetti,” hamburgers with the consistency of hockey pucks, flaccid, undercooked french fries — the painful mental images are still down there, lurking in the bleak, dark depths of your consciousness.  And yet, kids confronted with even those culinary catastrophes could choke them down.  Then, when Michelle Obama decided to strive to make school lunches healthier, the effort produced lunches so revolting that even hungry kids found them to be intolerable.  And now Senators, of all people, are going to try to make school lunches tastier?  Really?  We’re going to rely on Senators to decide what the burly, hairnetted lunch ladies are going to be ladling out to the unfortunate kids whose parents won’t pack them a lunch?

C’mon, people.  Give the school kids a break.  Feeding hungry kids a decent lunch is much too important to leave to members of the World’s Greatest Deliberative Body. Instead, why not have a responsible, representative body make the decision — like, say, the student council in every school that is going to have to eat this stuff?


Missing Out On The Greatest School Lunch Of All

The revised guidelines of the National School Lunch Program seek to limit carbohydrates, sodium, and calories in the lunches that schools serve to the growing children of America.  Some school districts are finding, however, that kids think the new lunches, well, kind of suck and aren’t buying them.  That exercise of the right to put your money where your mouth wants to be is threatening the financial viability of some school lunch programs, so schools are dropping out of the NSLP.

The Superintendent of the Baldwinsville School District in central New York, for example, says that the revised NSLP guidelines required the school to stop serving a popular lunch option:  grilled cheese and tomato soup.  Wait . . . what?  If that is the kind of result the guidelines produce, no wonder kids are voting with their wallets and telling the federal government to stick it.  In fact, if the British government had tried to tax that ever-popular bit of lunchtime fare in addition to tea, it’s fair to say that kids would be learning about the Boston Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup Party in American History class.

For decades now, every American kid has known that grilled cheese and tomato soup is one of the greatest school lunches ever.  Of course, it is the definitive winter comfort food meal, as I’ve pointed out before.  But it is also a celebrated school lunch option, even if it’s not made in quite the same way Mom makes it at home.  Why?  Because even if the tomato soup is made with water rather rather than milk, and the sandwich is made with spreadable “cheese food” rather than Velveeta slices, the result is still recognizable as grilled cheese and tomato soup. 

That reassuring reality put grilled cheese and tomato soup far ahead of some of the unrecognizable grayish pink slop that the school cafeteria served when I was a kid.  Grilled cheese and tomato soup was always preferable to whatever the hell went into Johnny Marzetti, a kind of bastardized quasi-Italian option made with odds and ends that had an indefinable mushy, glue-like consistency.  Johnny Marzetti taught schoolkids of my generation one immutable rule of lunch lines:  never eat anything that was served with a scoop and plopped onto your plate with a loud and disgusting sucking sound.  It’s a valuable life lesson, but one you only need to learn once.

So I’m not surprised that schoolkids are rebelling and insisting that they get their grilled cheese and tomato soup back.  In fact, it’s kind of nice to know that kids are willing to stand up for their rights.  You’ve got to draw a line somewhere, and grilled cheese and tomato soup is a pretty good place to start.

In Favor Of School Lunch Choice

First Lady Michelle Obama has long campaigned against childhood obesity.  One of her targets has been the food served as public schools.  Earlier this week she argued that students should not be permitted to pick what they eat at school because they will inevitably make bad, unhealthy choices.  Instead, adults should control the menus to ensure that meals involving vegetables, fruits, and whole grains are served.

I think the First Lady has good intentions, and I think her real target is parents, who obviously should be focused on decision-making that affects the health of their children.  Still, I groan whenever I hear someone involved with government saying that personal choice should be eliminated, and a federally mandated menu determined by purported experts from the U.S. Department of Agriculture substituted instead.  Our government now tries to do so much — and yet does so little of it well.  Can’t something like school lunches be left to the decisions of parents and kids, without officious federal busybodies with taxpayer-funded jobs butting in to tell us what to do?

I’m not suggesting that kindergartners or first graders should be deciding what to eat, but at some point we need to allow kids, and parents, make choices.  Many kids already lead such regimented lives where there is nary a spontaneous moment or free decision.  How are kids supposed to learn how to make good decisions if they never, in fact, make any decisions?  Let them decide what to eat, or let parents pack their lunch — which is what happened when I was a kid.  If they make bad decisions and put on weight, their parents can respond and talk to them — which is what should be happening anyway.