I am aware that some of the criticism leveled at the School Lunch Program comes from political hate groups opposed to anything the Obama Administration supports. So when the news reported recently that school children in Harlan County, Kentucky wanted to tell Michele Obama that her food tastes like vomit, I took it in with a liberal sprinkling of salt. But when my grandson says the food now being served at school is even worse than it used to be, I listen, especially since I have eaten a lunch or two at school with him in years past. Even before the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, school lunches tasted terrible to me and I watched in astonishment how much of that food, over which so much money was spent and labor expended, went straight into the garbage can untouched. I salute Michele Obama for trying to do something about childhood obesity. I just don’t think either government or private business can supply really good tasting food to anything as big and sprawling as our school system. Quality fruit and vegetables defy factory production but factory food is the only way to supply that much food. That’s why so many people don’t like vegetables even when served by their favorite restaurant.
I feel sorry for children today. They so often have to bear the brunt of social experimentation that adults reject for themselves. The food thing is only one example. Many children suffer from “nature deficit disorder” because their parents, off working, are afraid to allow them real free time. There must always be adult surveillance. The kids retreat into their electronic gadgets, trying to find their own world. They don’t know where the sun comes up. Only a few can disappear into the fields to play like we did as children. Even fewer grow up working in the fields to learn how to make good food themselves. They take classes dissecting frogs and such, but teach them how to butcher a chicken? OMG!!! If they play sports, it must be under rigid adult supervision where the coaches so often bully the players. But the other kind of bullying has become a national worry right up there with obesity. My classmates and I once dealt with our school bully by beating the crap out of him. He got to be my friend after that.
It is a great idea to get kids to eat more fruit and vegetables. But just because something is a fruit or a vegetable does not mean it tastes good or is healthful. I’ve tried to eat strawberries that had to be coated in sugar to be enjoyed. What is served at school is often canned, not fresh, and either way has been harvested late so the machine harvesters can accommodate it, or stored the wrong way too long or pumped full of irrigation water until it is tasteless. Carol, whose farm family raised all their own food, loved kale. But the school lunch kale, she recalls, “was all stems! Terrible!” The milk that is being pushed for school lunches now is the 1% skimmed stuff good only for putting out fires. Sometimes the meat is not too bad but if you want a second helping you have to pay more, which of course is what richer kids do. The new breadsticks are inedible, my grandson says.
It takes handcrafted, caring work—love— to put good food in your children’s mouths. If you trust welfare capitalism to do it for you, then be prepared for some tasteless factory fiber. The whole local food and foodie movement is saying loud and clear that good food is a work of art, not an assembly line product. Some schools have actually instituted programs where the students work in gardens close by to supply some of their fruits and vegetables. This is a better way, but you and I know that takes dedicated adults and lots of overtime to run such programs. Better to give food production the status of a class subject like math and history. Then it becomes easier to manage and finance as an integral part of education. I fear that with what kids are experiencing now, they will grow up to be confirmed non-vegetable eaters like their parents.