My daughter just started kindergarten, so this is our first experience with school cafeteria food. Maybe I am naive, but I expected healthy food. The very first day of school should have been a clue for what was to come. The “special” of the day was hot dogs! This month’s menu has a hamburger or cheeseburger special every week and Tyson’s chicken patties or nuggets twice a week. The milk and cheese is chock full of artificial hormones and antibiotics. The chocolate milk has high fructose corn syrup and artificial flavoring. When I had lunch with my daughter one day, I discovered the pizza slices are heated in plastic wrap! Also, the “salad” consists of plain lettuce shoved into one of those condiment cups you get with take out (and, of course, the dressing had high fructose corn syrup in it). How can this be considered a serving when the entire salad fits on one fork? Besides the potentially soggy cheese pizza served every Friday, there are few meatless options for our family. Approximately twice a month, the special may be macaroni & cheese and some other pasta thing. Every day, the school has grilled cheese and peanut butter & jelly sandwiches, but my little one won’t eat either of those.
I could go on and on but by now, you get my point. Or maybe you don’t. Whenever I try to discuss these problems with the other parents, I get blank stares or a parent will say, “Why don’t you just pack a lunch?” Well, of course, I do. But why am I the only one up in arms about all of this? I thought the people in Skokie were more enlightened than this. I don’t expect tofu and bean sprouts. I do expect fresh food, abundant fruits and vegetables, and no artificial ingredients and hormones. Our district speaks over fifty languages (I can’t even name twenty!). Where’s the hummus, the Jerusalem salad, the rice & beans, the lentil soup the Thai noodles, the edamame?
School is about education, and that should include food. Furthermore, I believe that schools should set an example of what to eat to be healthy. If obesity is such a big problem among children, no one in this school district seems to notice. Oh, how I wish Alice Waters had a child at this school. She could rally the troops. I just met someone from the Healthy Schools Campaign. I hope she can help.
Ideally, I wish the school cafeteria served whole, unprocessed foods that were organically and/or locally grown. At the very least, I believe schools should not be providing foods with high fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated oils, artificial colors and flavorings, and artificial hormones and antibiotics. High fructose corn syrup is scientifically linked to obesity and can be found in most processed foods. Hydrogenated oils are trans fats which also contribute to obesity. Artificial food additives like colors and flavorings have been linked to cancer and hyperactivity in children (even ADHD). Artificial hormones, also known as rGBH and rBST (banned in the European Union) are administered to cows to aid in milk production. The hormones make the cows sick, thus causing the need for high doses of antibiotics to be administered. Ultimately, the hormones and the antibiotics get passed on to our bodies whenever we consume dairy products from these cows. These artificial hormones and antibiotics wreak havoc on our children’s bodies.
The two best books I have read on American obesity and food ingredients are Greg Crister’s Fat Land: How Americans Became the Fattest People in the World, and Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation. Indeed, I believe every adult in this country who eats food or feeds food to children should read these books (yes, I know this means everyone, I’m being cheeky). So, the next time you find me standing next to you in the school pick up line, ranting on and on about the cafeteria food, you’ll say, “Right on, sister!” and we’ll start the revolution together.