The food crisis in our home began when my daughter entered kindergarten in public school in LA. Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) is the second largest district in the country. They spend $.77 per meal on the lunches (77 cents*).
Our daughter goes to a charter school (we “won” the “lottery”) It’s far. A school bus would pick her up, but comes so early that we decided it was worth it to us as a family to let her sleep an extra 30 minutes and drive her there.
One day, she asked me to stay and have lunch with her.
I had packed her lunch, but had nothing for me since this was a last minute plan. So I bought a school lunch. How bad can it be, right? Look! they offer salad. Granted, it’s sealed in plastic (everything offered is sealed in plastic), but the lettuce is green.
Do I need to say it was disgusting? It’s hard to describe lettuce that doesn’t quite taste like lettuce, and cucumber that almost tastes like cucumber. I looked at the package of salad dressing (raspberry vinaigrette) and the first ingredient was high fructose corn syrup. The second ingredient was water. Then, some thickening agents. Then artificial flavoring.
I was hungry, so I ate it. Within 20 minutes, I had a raging stomach ache.
Periodically, LAUSD sends home a glossy color pamphlet about the “nutritious” lunch program. On the cover is a smiling little girl in pig tails with her school lunch in front of her: a shiny apple, a salad, a sandwich, milk, all neatly lined up on a tray.
The lunches don’t really look like that. Each component is individually packaged in plastic, put on a styrofoam tray, and sealed in plastic again. The lunches are trucked to the school the afternoon before, and unloaded. (I’ve seen it.) During lunch, they are warmed, in an oven, in their plastic wrappings, and given to the children, still in plastic. The amount of trash produced after lunchtime is astounding. Everything – forks, trays, bowls – is disposable.
photo by Gregory Bojorquez
I would argue that the trash can is where this “food” goes, too. And this was before the “Pink Slime” scandal.
According to CalPirg, which helped ban “substandard” meat in California schools recently, “… 6 million pounds of ammonia-treated beef scraps were used in school lunches. The beef and chicken meat sold to schools often has so much bacteria, it wouldn’t meet the standards of McDonald’s, KFC and other fast food chains.”
The chicken “was so low-quality it otherwise would have been made into pet food or compost.” In 2010, 13.6 million pounds of this “chicken” was purchased for the school lunch program.
By the way, pizza and french fries are vegetables. Just in case you were wondering. According to the national standards for school lunches. You might rejoice at such a proclamation. But all kidding aside, this is a sad state of affairs.
* according to an in depth report on the LAUSD school lunch program, by Gendy Alimurung, LAUSD spends $2.49 per meal, and is reimbursed by the federal government. “The $2.49 is based on what USDA economists estimate a healthy meal costs. But of that amount, just 77 cents goes to food. Why? First, subtract $1.42 for labor and benefits. Subtract 12 cents for supplies. Subtract 18 cents for operating expenses.”