Above: USDA: Praying Before School Lunch, 1936 by Unknown
You know what marginal group of tens of millions of people are being put at risk for poor nutrition by the global surge in food prices? American school children! Back in the salad days of 2006 when money grew on houses, glowing accounts abounded on plans to revamp the way kids eat at school, trading the fattening and soulless frozen pizzas and burgers that fueled the childhood obesity crisis (remember that?) for the new religion of local/seasonal/organic.
Now that reality has set in, schools are swapping fresh for canned, seeing higher demand for subsidized lunches, and wondering how they’ll cope with 30% to 50% cost increases while the federal per-meal subsidy remains static at an unrealistic 23 cents. Probably not all that well! Our youngest citizens have been historically poor budgetary advocates for themselves, so when their slice of the pie shrinks, that’s generally the end of the story. Federal law will see to it that students are provided with a minimum number of calories each day, but that’s also true for prisoners.
In this rapidly shifting environment for school meals, you have to wonder, just what are the children eating? Thanks to the wonders of the internet, hundreds of cafeteria menus are available for our inspection. Here’s a sampling from around the country of what’s being served for lunch today:
• Wicomico County, Maryland — Pork dippers with dipping sauce and dinner roll or hot dog on bun and potato rounds, cole slaw, pears
• Fulton County, Illinois — tortellini, pork tenderloin/bun, baked potato, salad bar, uncrustable PBJ, garlic bread, tossed salad, pineapple chunks, shape up in cup
• Fond du Lac County, WIsconsin — Grilled cheese, chicken noodle soup, raw vegetables and dip, mandarin oranges
• Pinellas County, Florida — Cheeseburger, Cuban pork with yellow rice, cheese stick munch and dip, potato wedges, beans, broccoli, Cuban toast
• Tate County, Mississippi — Salisbury Steak w/Gravy, Baked Chicken Nuggets, Fruit and Yogurt Salad, Ham & Cheese on Bun, Black-Eyed Peas, Straight Cut French Fries, Seasoned Cabbage, Chilled Peach Slices, Mixed Fruit, Fruit Juice, Central MS Cornbread, Rice, Saltine Crackers.
Illuminating! Almost everyone is eating pig products for lunch, and there also seems to be a preponderance of dippable items. Regional themes are clearly in play, like the Cuban toast in Florida and the intriguing “Central MS Cornbread” in Mississippi. It’s heartening to see that, however unhealthy the dishes and low quality the ingredients, there’s still a nod to culinary heterogeneity. Every school seems to be offering fruit and vegetables in some (unexciting) form, but that’s a legal mandate; and besides, one of the articles mentioned that broccoli is now cost-competitive with flour!
But even as our school lunch program is stymied by high costs and crappy product, at least we don’t have massive food poisoning outbreaks at our nation’s cafeterias! For now, anyway.
Economic crunch seen in school lunch rooms [Bradenton Herald]
Food Crisis Forcing Cafeteria Managers To Try New Menus [AHN]
Food prices take bite out of school lunch menus [Star-Ledger]