I was reading an email when I was reminded about one of my newest passions and got fired up. Let me back up a little bit.
A month or so ago I was at a Hunger Roundtable Event with city leaders tackling hunger in various ways. One of the main speakers was with the USDA and was raving about the benefits of the School Lunch and SNAP food programs. He was very proud of his agency and I get that. As I am very unfamiliar with the programs, there were a lot of facts that surprised me, like 75% of Americans are eligible for one of the benefits which are meant to make us healthy. That SNAP is designed to employ Americans in agriculture while feeding others. Or that every public and most private school cafeterias receive funding. Then he said something that shocked me…
The school lunch program was started after WWII to give nutrition to children because many soldiers were severely malnourished before entering the armed forces.
WAIT! What? The school food program was designed to give nutrition to children?
The same school food program that sold French fries and ranch dressing to 80% of my high school daily? The same program to sold pizza, green hot dogs and mystery meat to me and my classmates? The program that encountered some criticism when they took corn dogs and ranch dressing off the menu in Portland? The same system that is now making a third of teenagers obese?
Yes, that is the one.
Most of my recent experience with this topic is with mentoring a middle schooler the last couple years and stories I hear from friends with kids. My mentee buddy is not in great physical shape and also on the free breakfast and lunch programs. We discuss where he gets food and what he likes to eat. It has been fun showing him how to make better, healthier choices, but at the same time he reminds me a couple dollars matters to him and his mom.
When I ask where he wants to eat I hear McDonalds and Burger King a lot. I don’t like the way they get their food, what’s in their meat (or not) and how they operate on a business model that keeps workers near the poverty line, so it was a dilemma of cost over quality. And whether he liked the little places I took him to eat. I recently read that the fast food giants were no longer buying the soylent pink substance that was added to super processed beef to kill bacteria and extend meat. Even with this, I liked being able to take my buddy to some place that had more choices than “over-processed ingredients done 14 ways”.
That is why it was so heart breaking to read that the USDA is allowing the not quite meat, ammonia added, pink slime to be purchased by schools. And not only was it still being purchased, now since fast food places pulled contracts, it was cheaper and so purchased in larger quantities by schools. 7 million pounds is planning to be purchased.
It leads me to ask…is purchasing 7 million pounds of not meat, processing, freezing and transporting it around the country really cheaper than selecting more local foods? Why do people not care what their children eat? When will the public realize what they eat affects their healthcare coverage and prices? Why do we complain when food goes up a nickel but not when a corporations profits go up 30%. How has something that was created to make better soldiers become a way to make corporations rich and children addicted to fat and junk food?