The Pretentious is the Enemy of the Good

by Tom Lee

Ezra and I have been going back and forth a bit in the comments to his post about Alice Waters’ school lunch proposal — I think the $5-per-lunch number she’s quoting is ridiculously high.  I found my latest addition to the thread beginning to sprawl, so I thought I might as well just turn it into a post and see if pushing it to the top of the page can spur further discussion.

Ezra says:

It is certainly true that kids can be fed very cheaply, and it may be true that there is somewhere between $2.40 and $5.00 where you’re also feeding kids a healthy lunch and supporting the sort of local food economies you want to sustain. But given that a McDonald’s meal costs around $5, I’m skeptical. And it’s not clear to me why subsidizing a $5 for kids who can’t afford it is an excessive amount here.

I think the “you can get fast food meals for $5” argument is telling. Yes, we can safely assume that fast food ingredients are worse quality than what we’d like to feed schoolchildren. However, that fast food menu price also reflects commercial rent; substantial marketing expenditures; and much more food, and meat, than is necessary for a kid (or anyone, frankly).

Using the numbers Ezra quotes earlier in his comment, if we assume labor and equipment costs remain fixed but decide to pay three times as much for ingredients — a huge jump! — Waters’ estimate would still be about 50% too high.

I suspect there are reasons for this — reasons which invalidate my assumption of fixed labor costs. From reading the linked article, it’s clear that Waters is envisioning menus that are healthier, that rely more on on-site production and fresh ingredients, and which she and her supporters find more personally compelling. That’s all fine, but I’d say that only the first of those should be an actual policy goal. Adding “and kids will eat it” is probably worth doing, too.

There’s really no good reason to dismiss frozen foods or centralized production. I understand that Waters isn’t a fan of those things; that’s understandable given her credentials and background. But the goal here is to wind up with healthier kids, not to train itty bitty aesthetes. I like eating sophisticated food, too, but it’s a luxury good — and one that would be wasted on most kids, anyway. There’s simply no compelling case for favoring a casserole or soup produced on-site in a school over a frozen one if they’re both using the same recipe and same quality of ingredients. Yes, factory-produced food is frequently unhealthy. But the the idea that there’s some inherent health disadvantage to food produced through economies of scale is just a lazy heuristic.

If our goal is really to feed these kids properly then we ought to be looking seriously at how to make that happen rather than musing about the Platonic ideal of the school lunch. That means being realistic about how to achieve our goals as simply and cheaply as possible. And here it really does seem simple: brutally reduce kids’ unhealthy lunchroom options, come up with approved national menus and fund the existing school lunch infrastructure a little bit better.

I believe this is a genuinely important thing for us to do, and such a relatively easy thing that there’s no justifiable reason for failing to do so. So I got a little irked when I saw Waters throwing around terms like “organic” and “locally produced” in her proposal. I enjoy foodie pretension as much as the next guy (ask me about my strongly-held opinions regarding shallots as a sandwich onion replacement!), but dicking around with that nonsense while middle schoolers are contracting diabetes is frankly inexcusable.  This crusade deserves to happen, but Waters is the wrong person to lead it.


73 responses to “The Pretentious is the Enemy of the Good

  1. I’m certainly no expert. But it has always been my impression that achieving economies of scale in the food industry necessitated the use of preservatives and other unhealthy chemical additives to keep the food edible through the long logistical ordeal that follows centralize production.

    In other words, my impression is that fresh, locally produced food is nontrivially healthier because it did not have to be artificially preserved between the time it entered the production process and the time it reached your plate. Moreover, some healthy options are only available fresh–again as I understand it.

    I’m sure there’s a compromise to be struck between Waters’ ideal and a required level of efficiency, but I don’t think she’s totally out of her gourd on this.

  2. I think what you’re missing is the way your goal of “kids will eat it” relates to the goals of fresh ingredients and produced on site. I love fresh veggies. But thinking about myself and the frozen-food aisle, the only things that I find tasty are the ones that are far from being good for you. And organic produce, especially for some vegetables, can have a strong relationship to health. Not diabetes, but the other negative consequences of pesticides and fertilizers.

  3. I’m sure that this is true for some types of food — although it’s probably worth mentioning that there’s not much evidence that preservatives are bad for you, and in fact I’ve seen at least one study investigating whether they might be *good* for you.

    But I think the reason this association has sprung up in our minds is simply because the only segments of the food market where it makes sense to establish the infrastructure necessary for achieving these huge economies of scale are those where price pressure is significant — where there’s a motivation for squeezing every penny out of your production budget. Once operating in that sort of environment, quality will suffer as other ways of saving money are pursued — subpar ingredients; tricks to extend shelf life; recipes that take the cheap, sweet and fatty way out.

    But that’s not the case here — the school system can operate outside the brutality of the market, at least to some extent, and pay a slightly above-market rate for food that meets whatever standards the government decides to adopt — standards which I personally hope will not include dubiously useful things like organic certification, but which might usefully include bans on some types of chemical additives or limits on the use of sweetening agents.

    It really is possible to mass-produce healthy frozen stuff for next to no money. Here’s one example: I was recently startled to look at the list of ingredients on my local supermarket’s house brand of frozen ravioli. Flour, egg, water, spinach, ricotta, salt… that was it! And this was just at Giant, on their no-name, no-logo, no marketing offering. It’s simple food, it’s healthy, and it’s dirt cheap. There’s nothing stopping us from using mass production of food for good — it’s just that the market tends to select for evil.

  4. Sorry, that last comment was responding to southpaw. elw, the health benefits of organic food are habitually overstated — see here for a summary representing several governments’ research on the subject. To whatever extent they exist, those benefits are surely dwarfed by the value to be had by settling for feeding kids conventional produce versus the current state of affairs.

    You’re right that healthy options in the freezer aisle can be few and far between. But that has nothing to do with freezing as a technology and everything to do with the retail market for food. If you can freeze a healthy meal at home, an institutional producer can do the same (and at a fraction of the cost).

  5. One thing that could be a factor limiting the ability for all schools to do better than what they do now: facilities. Not all schools have the kitchen facilities to do actual cooking. My daughter’s elementary school, for instance, has what amounts to a cleanup kitchen. No stoves, no ovens, etc. All the “food” is prepared off-site somewhere, and transported in insulated cabinets to each school. So they get a lot of packaged crap (hot pockets), that are easy to prepare and minimize cleanup. To install a real kitchen in her school would be virtually impossible without major capital investment.

    She ate school lunch her first day of first grade. Since then she has absolutely refused to eat school lunch, and takes her lunch instead. Fine with me.

  6. If you’re looking for a good resource for the spectrum of frozen foods, this site is pretty incredible.

    I remain skeptical that you could expand the range of frozen foods much beyond the protein, principal grains, and sauce model they have today (and, obviously, that’s hard to make healthy). One compromise I’d suggest is serving students fresh, raw fruits and vegetables that require a bare minimum of preparation (i.e. washing and peeling) to go along with the frozen stuff. Some fresh carrots and celery and oranges apples and peaches could go a long way toward making reheated, twice boiled turkey breast less dreary.

  7. I certainly agree with that, Southpaw. Fresh fruits and vegetables absolutely need to be more available. I just think that prepared food can take us a longer way toward healthiness than Waters implies.

    mistersmed: you’re right, of course. The $5/meal figure doesn’t include the cost of revamping those facilities. I’m all for getting rid of the fryers that are inexplicably present in every school cafeteria I’ve ever seen, but I’m not as cheery about the prospect of building full kitchens and staffing them properly.

  8. Southpaw: On the whole, fresh (unfrozen) vegetables are NOT any more nutritious than frozen vegetables. This is not just crazy talk; it’s backed up by research (see this 1998 study in Food Chemistry that found frozen veggies had equivalent or higher nutritional content than grocery-purchased fresh ones: There are, of course, lots of other non-nutrition benefits to eating fresh/local (supporting local business, cutting down on processing costs and shipping/storage-caused emissions, etc) but I think it’s very important that we not conflate “fresh” with “nutritious”. As the site you linked to shows, there are lots of highly processed, bad-for-you frozen foods. But frozen foods are not by definition unhealthy.

  9. Along this vein, this segment from NPR is worth a listen, regarding the menus in French day care. It could be argued, Tom, that teaching children to value what they eat each day and the manner in which they eat it is no more reserved for the asthetes than Shakespeare, trigonometry or the many other things we teach in school.

    And I get that some commenters disagree with the $5-per-kid number, but it’s not as if Waters is just making stuff up, high off her win on Hell’s Kitchen. The Edible Schoolyard program has done a lot of very serious work at improving American school lunches for over a decade. Waters probably knows a lot more about financing an elementary school kitchen than we do.

  10. “It could be argued, Tom, that teaching children to value what they eat each day and the manner in which they eat it is no more reserved for the asthetes than Shakespeare, trigonometry or the many other things we teach in school.”

    That’s nicely put, Jeff. Here’s more on the French lunches:

    What impressed me most of all about the French school lunch was not just the deliciousness of the food, but that everything about it — the brightly decorated lunchrooms, the gorgeous kitchens, the lunch moms, the chefs — sent such a deep message of caring. To my ears it fairly screamed, “We care about and love our children. They are us, after all, and we want them to eat well and be nourished.”

    Unfortunately, that is about the last message American school lunch sends to our children. Instead, we’re saying, “We have to feed you something; it’s gotta be cheap, and we don’t really care about it or you.” This doesn’t mean that those who put the meals out feel that way, but they are mostly given nothing to work with, be it pots and pans or the knowledge about how to do things, like ripen fruit so that it tastes good when it’s offered.

    It may be that you can offer mass produced food of exactly equal nutritive value to food that would in some way be described as fresh. As I’ve said, I’m skeptical that such equivalence could be achieved, but–not being an expert–I can hardly be certain of my intuition.

    What I can be certain of is that it’s an incredibly dreary vision–rows of students eating drab rations of cheap gruel that’s totally equivalent to good food in every measurable way, except it isn’t good. Alice Waters might not be the right person to lead this crusade, but neither are the old farts from the beginning of Oliver Twist.

  11. I’ve been to schools like the one described in your comment, southpaw. A past girlfriend worked at the American School of Milan, where doting Italian lunchladies lovingly prepared fresh pasta and from-scratch sauces for healthy, thriving children. The one or two times I got to eat in the cafeteria, it was delicious.

    But that was a very rich school, and Europeans have a very different lifestyle than we do (how many “lunch moms” do you think the average American school could count on recruiting?). I agree that this is a lovely vision of how to feed our children, but it doesn’t strike me as being at all realistic except for the wealthiest schools.

  12. I think you all have still missed my point about the taste of frozen healthy food. I can buy bags of frozen broccoli, spinach, peas, etc. It’s not like they’re not available. But while they’re an improvement on the canned stuff, they are still a world away from the fresh item in terms of texture and taste. I didn’t start liking vegetables until I met the fresh ones — and I think if you’re trying to get kids to eat veggies, there’s a strong argument for using fresh ingredients.

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  14. elw, I think it depends on how you use the frozen vegetables. If you’re using spinach in a soup, pasta filling, or whatever, the original texture doesn’t matter much because the leaves will be wilted and/or mashed up anyway.

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  16. Growing food on-site, with the help of school kids, is a great way to teach respect for food. Take a walk through the middle aisles of any grocery store and it’s easy to forget that food is actually grown somewhere. I think that is a core tenant of Waters’ philosophy. Grow (or help grow) your food and you will care more about it.

  17. I’m not a huge fan of Waters. She is oh so very Californian in her thinking, so a lot of her “seasonal” menus are only possible in San Francisco (yes, she is so seasonal that going south to Los Angeles is enough to mess up the timing on things). Great, but then she spends a good deal of time knocking genuinely seasonal cooking done the way it *has* to be in places where it gets below 0F on a regular basis. You do in fact need to can, freeze or pickle vegetables in order to have them in winter in Wisconsin… and if I have to pick, I’m picking freezing. I do like some kinds of pickles and home canned veg, but they’re never my first choice in cooking.

    That said, sensible cooking tends to involve a lot of vegetables… far more than you’d ever see in an American school lunch. If precut frozen vegetables mean kids get something besides iceberg lettuce salads and raw carrots, it’s a win.

    There’s also a pretty huge range of foods that we don’t serve in schools despite them being practical. A steam table is deathly to a stir fry, but is dandy for keeping soup at a safe temperature. If what you’ve got is a steam table and a 6 burner range, you need to make the most of it. Very few schools do.

  18. There is a good TED Talk by Ann Cooper, head of the Berkeley school system talking about how she has transformed the Berkeley school lunch program.

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  20. “If you can freeze a healthy meal at home, an institutional producer can do the same (and at a fraction of the cost).”

    I doubt that is really true. The reality is that cooking food and freezing it quickly enough to be safe is inherently expensive. This is why a lot of frozen prepared foods are pretty pricey.

    More to the point, “can” and “will” are different concepts. Commercial producers are always looking at ways to shave costs and sometimes that means reducing the nutritional value or safety of the food they produce.

    That said, I don’t remember many frozen vegetables in my school lunches. They were usually straight from a can. Do most schools really have the commercial freezer capacity needed to preserve all the food they serve?

    But the real problem comes down to skill in preparation. Anyone can open a can or put food onto a steam table. But who is going to cut up all those fresh vegetables?

  21. wow, i’m not a hundred percent sure where these homogeneous over privileged suburban schools you guys are envisioning this ‘grow your own lunch/fresh raw vegetables that haven’t been getting frost bite in the industrial refrigerators for two weeks’ utopia of non-mass produced immaculately healthy cafeteria food exist exactly. but it’s certainly not the inner city schools i see on a daily basis.

    don’t get me wrong, nothing appalls me quite as much as watching school kids being given over cooked, greasy, disgusting food that provides zero nutritional benefits. unless, maybe, it’s how those same kids are borderline illiterate, intellectually under-developed and leaving school without even the most tentative grasp on how to survive in the real world, and you all are worried about providing them with a more visceral appreciation of the delicate parsnip?!

    yes, the school lunch system needs an overhaul. yes, we need to be providing our children a more balanced and healthful diet. but why not set our sights on a more realistic goal that can be achieved before this decade is out and one that will leave enough funding for, oh i don’t know, current text books or adequate school supplies. once all these, quite frankly, more pressing needs have been met and not just paid lip service to, then we can let our imaginations run wild and start dreaming up other ways we can be more like the french.

  22. One point that needs to be considered is the intended beneficiaries of this.

    If the only goal is to improve the diet of the students, then there may be a wider range of acceptable solutions as highlighted above.

    If the goal is a subtle, but major aid to the ‘local food’ economy in addition (or at the expense of) to improving the diet of the students, then I think Ms. Waters idea is the way to go.

    It’s important to decide which goal has priority and to be aware that additional agendas exist.

  23. With regard to the mention about what makes up the price of a meal at McDonald’s (which, for NY, is more than $5 – up to $9 for a medium sized value meal in some parts of NY, could by more in NYC) it should also be noted that NONE of their food comes unprepared anymore. It’s pretty much all heat and eat at this point.

    Pancakes – frozen (they used to come at least in batter form, if not in powder form, and this was < 10 years ago)
    Fries – ready to go into the fryer
    “Ice cream” and “milk”shakes – in a mix to pour into their machine

  24. One has to consider the multiple cultures kids come from and whether kids from Mexican families, say, or Chinese would go for Alice Waters who seems as anxious to impose limited choice on people as any stern midwestern meat and potatoes person.

    One has to consider the vast numbers of low-income kids in the school. Nourishing them well is really important, nourishing them with stuff they will eat. Sometimes even a bit of bulk matters (I noticed that the French did serve macaroni salads).

    Other logistics: one has to consider how many kids have to get lunch in any given school, and how many eat lunch at once and how long they get for lunch.

    Rejecting frozen vegetables for kids’ lunches is sheer snobbery. Even snobby moms and dads give their kids frozen vegetables and mac and cheese and Cheerios more often they would probably admit to Alice Waters.

  25. Then again, if we consider that the folks on the fringes tend to move everyone to the center, maybe people like Alice Waters are just the right types to start this conversation. Like any good negotiation, you don’t start out where you want to be, otherwise you have nothing to give.

  26. Unless I’m mistaken, none of you have been in the trenches of school nutrition reform. Believe it or not, there is a lot more to it than AW and utopian visions of organic locavores.

    It is entirely unrealistic to expect 15000 individual school districts to meet or beat McD’s indsutrial efficiency. Right there you shoot yourself in the foot. You are talking about a lot of small kitchens that serve food for maybe 1.5hr/day. Not going to happen. Not happening now.

    The real underlying problem are the many USDA rules surrounding free and reduced lunches that pretty much limit buying choices and result in the prevalence of crappy frozen dreck.

    There is so much to say on this, so I will stop here. The goal is to freshen up the food and make it healthier. That will cost more. Probably double.

  27. My two (just out of college) Calif. public school educated children never attended a school with a kitchen. (Lunch food brought in).

    When I was on the School Site Council (a state mandated parent/teacher/admin advisory body) at their high school, the district personnel responsible for the lunch program said they couldn’t afford to supply enough salads to satisfy demand most days because of the cost of discarding unused fresh food on days they didn’t hit their estimates.

  28. As many others have said though — frozen veggies are simply not as tasty as fresh ones. I didn’t eat vegetables, period, until I left my childhood home and learned to cook for myself. In times of desperation I’ll buy a bag of frozen spinach, and as soon as I take a bite I’ll remember all over again what it was like to forgo my dinner as a six-year-old. YUCK.

    Others have also mentioned, and I would concur: we’re not just talking about health benefits to our kids here. Growing locally when possible, and organic when possible, is better for our PLANET. It’s not just about this generation of kids, it’s about their kids. It’s cheaper to mass produce today, but it’s not cheaper in the long run. What’s wrong with being idealistic?

  29. Oh, PLEASE. Go visit some schools and see if you want to give them iddy biddy portions of organic produce locally grown…and where would you get enough to begin with to feed the kids in Brooklyn and the Bronx, say. Or Boston in the winter.

    If school gardens are feasible, those are a great idea, but it is unlikely, at least early on, you could feed an entire school from a school garden.

  30. Remember in “the good old days” people CANNED their organic home-grown produce, and smoked the meat (horrors) and dried stuff, to boot.

  31. SFUSD has a lot of recent experience with salad bars and stocking them with fresh produce – which hear in California does tend to be relatively local stuff.

    The kids love it. Where there are salad bars, the caf sells not only a lot of salads but a lot of other meals. We are not talking about tiny servings of expensive organic, heirloom, designer fru fru. We’re talking bags of cleaned carrots and greens and a simple serving table. This is what it is all about folks. It does cost more than a can of peaches in syrup, but not as much more as you might expect.

  32. its more than just feeding them better food, its supporting the local economy and having kids understand where their food actually comes from.

  33. Mr. Lee, your ignorance on this subject is shockingly high. Why exactly are you writing about this like you’re some authority?

    This scores my Dumbest Blog Post of the Month. Congrats!

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  35. Fresh food is “sophisticated” and “would be wasted on most kids, anyway”?

    For me this assertion alone summarizes the distant relationship most Americans seem to have with proper food, equating it to a luxury, and how they have been training their children to (un)develop their taste buds with cheap calories. Before I came to this country, I had never seen a mother ask what children wanted her to cook for their dinner, and the choices offered being macaroni & cheese or chicken nuggets.

    Following on Jeff’s comment of the NPR segment, one must get its nose out of the United States and see how kids eat in other countries. France is not the only good example. From my experience, if you go to Europe or Latin America, you shall see toddlers eating plenty of fresh vegetables, grains and soups. As soon as they have teeth they eat whatever the adults are eating. And they seem to appreciate the food.

    Most important, in all these countries people usually sit on a table with other people to have a proper meal at least twice a day. Taking the time and ceremony to share food is not considered a luxury, but the uttermost basis of civilization. I don’t want to be offensive, but in the almost ten years I have been living in the US, when I see the way most people hoard their plates and shove the food down their throats, I often think of dogs snarling as if someone might try to take a bone out of their teeth.

  36. All food snobbery aside, once we get over the sticker shock of what Alice suggested for school lunch ( $5), let’s consider what benefits would result from this investment in infrastructure.

    Forget about the NSLP as we know it now. Like the USDA and the FDA , it is broken and sorely in need of a complete overhaul. Back in the 70’s Earl Butz was famous for saying
    “get big or get out”.
    Today the battle cry is get small, local and diversified. This will benefit our waistlines, our wallet and the world.

    Instead of subsidies to big agribusiness, let’s support local small farmers. That puts money directly back into our communities and saves energy by decreasing the distance from farm to plate.

    The focus should be on farm to school, along with real food education. Teach kids to grow & cook food and learn about food culture and history. Get rid of the USDA food pyramid: it’s uninspiring and full of conflicts of interest!

    Did I mention healthcare? When we talk “healthcare” in the US, we really mean “medical insurance” This sort of food focused infrastructure IS preventative healthcare at it’s finest. Pay your farmer, not your doctor!

    Alice is not the only one out there with this sort of vision. Check out what Tony Geraci is starting to do with the Baltimore school system. College students are advocating for this on campuses across the country, check out the Real Food Challenge.

    Smart parents are pushing for this too. This is what Better School Food is all about.

  37. I appreciate the acknowledgment that just because a food has been processed, it is not inherently unhealthy. Value-added products tend to be the culprits, health-wise, in processed foods. There are some really great technologies in development or in use that should drastically improve the flavor processed vegetables. My favorite is high pressure processing. IMO, the best kind of school lunch system would incorporate both processed foods (frozen, canned or dried) and fresh foods. Lentil soup with tomatoes and chard, anyone?

  38. I recently started living and working (at the high school) in Burlington, Vt and have been really impressed by the food here and in many districts around the state. Our school has a culinary tech program with a director who is focused on getting local food to schools. Here is an organization that has been working to improve the food kids eat:

  39. My only real disagreement is with the statement “Waters is the wrong person to lead it.” The reality is that there is no single leader in the movement for healthier school food. It’s a big tent with lots of voices, and I believe that we all only benefit from a credible, credentialed, and experienced voice calls for what many consider to be the gold standard.

    What I hope to do is work toward doing basically what you said ( ) – reduce kids’ unhealthy lunchroom options, improve national school food standards, and yes fund the existing school lunch infrastructure better. And if Alice Waters calling for $5 helps get us $3.50, then I’m all in favor of her efforts.

    And as an interesting side, Chicago Public Schools has recently begun experimenting with local frozen fruits. There is a lot of potential there.

  40. Amanda L Bennett

    Christopher Kimball Editor/Chief (Cooks Illustrated) for me said it best in his letter to eEditor of the Globe a few years back. It bears re-reading.

  41. I’m with Jeff, I think it was, who said that kids should learn about what’s best, not just what’s survivable, and that that applies during eating class just as much as it does during reading class.

    Of course, that means you have to face the unresolvable question of what’s best. And that works best when you have an open, democratic school environment where teachers, kids, and parents can all discuss this stuff.

    My family is fortunate in that our child goes to such a school. Some of the other people there are working on school food, which predictably involves a lot of battles with the school bureaucracy. And this is a much more fight over resources than one about what constitutes good eating.

    As for me, I’m more involved in the never-ending fight to continue being an open and democratic school.

    My feeling is that quality-centered school food reform, which I think is what would result in the healthiest adults down the line, is inherently at odds with the trend toward the testing-industrial complex.

    (My own concept of food quality runs somewhere between Alice Waters and Calvin Trillin.)

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  44. “but dicking around with that nonsense [organic, local] while middle schoolers are contracting diabetes…”
    I’m not sure what you would want our children to learn from that sentence-that it is okay for parents to feed their kids crap cause it’s easier and cheaper? Or that it’s okay for us to feed them crap and we’ll deal with the diabetes later? If kids know about food at an early age (just like any other culturally relevant topic), and are eating organic and local whenever possible (and it isn’t that much more expensive or difficult, really), then maybe we won’t have to worry about diabetes in middle school.
    Alice Waters is trying to get the lazy bean counters out of the kitchens that feed our kids, so we can change the way we think about feeding them and teaching them about food. If, when they come home from school you want to feed them crap, that’s up to you. But I wouldn’t want my kid eating that garbage.
    And it may seem like a huge task, but Jamie Oliver is already doing it in Britain; and Alice Waters, as the godmother of the food revolution in this country, is EXACTLY the person to do it here. Don’t be so cynical!

  45. It’s pure-d amazing how many people are reacting to this post without, apparently, having read it. DCTweet (should be DCTwit, I think) misses the point so totally that I’ll spell it out for him: There is good food available that is not local, not organic and still of several magnitudes better than what we’re feeding the kids now. We don’t have to be perfect, in order to improve. Now do you understand?
    And “Dr Susan Rubin” seems to have forgotten that small farms shut down ALL WINTER in most of the country. Shall we simply stop serving the children in all northern tier states? How about we just try to get them some real food, instead of dreck.

    And for all of you who said, “oooh yuck, frozen” all sushi grade tuna is frozen, as are all those “prawns” you love to eat (hint, they’re really just shrimp at an extra $2.00/lb). IQF is so far superior in flavor, texture and nutrition to badly grown hydroponic “organic” as to be another species entirely.
    And please notify me when you are all willing to pony up an extra $1000/year in taxes for school lunches, and how many phone calls you are willing to make to see if we can get any portion of real school lunch reform passed.

    Buncha w(h)iners.

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  47. As background , I have lived/gardened in Texas, Washington DC, Boston, Chicago, Wisconsin, Ohio, Georgia, Massachusetts and now Minneapolis (leaving out outside-US experience that isn’t really relevant here). I’ve seen the Edible Schoolyard in California and met the organizers in New Orleans, and I don’t believe it’s a workable concept for the majority of schools, because the majority of schools in the US are not in places where prime growing season overlays the school year. That means that, when the kids are not in school over the summer, you have to have a paid or volunteer gardener, probably paid if you want to produce a large enough crop to make a difference to the school’s food budget. And that raises all kinds of issues about slender school budgets; there aren’t many schools in the country with cash to spare.

    Making school lunches more healthy and tasty, and hooking them into whatever local foodshed exists, are worthwhile goal, and they may be achievable – there are some school districts in the South (AL? MS?) that have done great work on this. But focusing on the Edible Schoolyard really doesn’t help. It’s an inspiring little boutique demonstration, in a particular climate, in a particular food culture, but it isn’t broadly replicable.

  48. Hey Maryn & John,
    I have to disagree with you when it comes to naysaying the garden deal.

    If they can grow food in Belfast, Maine, it can be done anywhere.

    The deal is you’ve got to eat seasonally when you eat local. It CAN be done… will have to be done once the oil runs out! Transition communities are starting to form in the UK and in some states in the US. The reality is that if we don’t start to feed ourselves in a sustainable fashion, the sh*t is gonna hit the fan!

    Check out The End of Food by Paul Roberts for a good discussion of just how broken our food system is.
    Alice may take a lot of heat for being elitist, but most folks aren’t ready for the reality: peak oil combined with climate change = food crisis.

    We better start setting up these systems ’cause the SYSCO truck is not gonna be running in the long run.

    Sorry to be so blunt, but it’s time for a wake up call.

  49. Sure, Doc. Show me that this can be anything but a demo project for a sellect group. Let’s try Chicago: 6 Million children. OK? ready?

    In the meantime, you don’t mind if I feed my children some real food, do you? Or are you so stuck that you can’t see that we can feed them TOMORROW, and not wait 2-5 years for this pie-in-the-sky stuff you and Alice Waters are enamoured about?

  50. Hey John,
    Shift your eyes away from Berkeley and take a look at Baltimore. Tony Geraci is working there to create farm to school policy that can be implemented state wide. He’s also started 33 acres of gardens. Tony is not pie in the sky guy. He knows we have to change the way we feed our kids for reasons other than elitist food snobbish notions.

    This model takes the money out of the pockets of the food industry and puts it into folks that grow real food. Consider that those might become some of the “green jobs” of the future.

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  52. Hey Doc,

    Ease up on the hysteria. The Sysco truck will run on petrochemical fuel until it becomes cost effective to move to another source of energy. If you think that we are going to feed the nation’s kids, let alone the entire nation, on locally produced food you are, quite frankly, insane.

    Feeding our kids healthy school meals needs to be detached from the overblown rhetoric of the “everything green, everything local” mantra that is turning off many people.

  53. “If you think that we are going to feed the nation’s kids, let alone the entire nation, on locally produced food you are, quite frankly, insane.”

    “quite frankly”, I am tired people saying “no se puede” . It ought to be obvious that all food produced is “local” to somewhere.

    The family of the manager of the local community radio station here in northern Minnesota, with its extremely short growing season, successfully did an experiment of living on local food for a full year. She made an exception for salt and her husband drank locally roasted coffee.

    Which tells you something about the reality of local food. It is rarely really entirely local. But that does not mean that providing a larger market for locally grown food to replace industrial scale agriculture is impossible. Or that by emphasizing locally grown food served in schools will not improve the nutrition of the meals served as well as the variety of foods available locally for everyone.

    Of course, like anything, if you become fanatical and refuse to let kids have an orange unless its grown in a local hot house you are going to defeat your purpose.

    What happened with the local station manager’s experiment is that they went back to eating food from a variety of places when the experiment was over. But they continue to seek out and eat far more local food than they did before. And that is really the point.

  54. M. Raymond Torres

    Baffled as I am by what a lazy heuristic could possibly mean and curious as I may be about what Plato might have recommended for my son’s cafeteria, why so arch?

    I too find Alice Waters to be obtuse on many food basics like cost, time and interest. And, yes $5.00 ($900.00 per year here in Texas) is more than some people can and many people are willing to pay for school lunches however healthful. Although I suspect that the real objection of the majority of people is to the idea of paying that $900.00 per year for qualifying low-income kids rather than to paying it for their own.

    Still, on-site preparation of school meals from fresh ingredients offers direct control over those ingredients and their handling. Every remove requires costly, inefficient regulation to attempt to ensure food safety and quality—attempt being the operative word here, as the latest peanut product fiasco illustrates.

    Food safety is as important as nutrition and both are compromised by processing of food. Why on earth would we willingly continue to cede control and responsibility for these issues to, well, to anyone?

    Anyway, among its many other merits, facilities for on-site preparation also provide an opportunity for incorporating food into a school’s curricula. History, science, math, economics, government and other subjects can be taught using food and its preparation as a focus.

    Win, win, win rather than whine, whine, whine, anybody?

  55. “It’s pure-d amazing how many people are reacting to this post without, apparently, having read it. DCTweet (should be DCTwit, I think) misses the point so totally that I’ll spell it out for him: There is good food available that is not local, not organic and still of several magnitudes better than what we’re feeding the kids now. We don’t have to be perfect, in order to improve. Now do you understand?”
    Hey John I’m begging you-wipe that drool from the corner of your mouth and take it easy! You are going to have a heart attack-and I’m guessing you are a prime candidate. Nobody said we have to be perfect-but trying to improve the food our kids eat is a good thing, starting with fresh, local, seasonal, and organic, wherever possible. And it will cost us LESS in the long run when you add in the health benefits and the environmental benefits.
    And I’m afraid you obviously know little or nothing about growing seasons or where our food comes from, how it is prepared, etc. Have you eaten a school lunch lately? That would be a revelation to you, and perhaps many others that we need to do something NOW.

  56. you are missing the point. the school lunch program needs to teach kids how to eat. that there is a better, healthy way for them and the environment. they need to learn where their food comes from. As Waters states, “After all, eating well requires education. We can teach students to choose good food and to understand how their choices affect their health and the environment.”

    Also, organic is not just a fancy word for the elite. Organic foods are better for us and the environment.

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  63. rhodeygirltests

    You know, we spend less money on food than MOST other major countries. we should value what we eat to nourish our bodies- they are all we have!- and teaching our kids to value it too is important, not only for their futures, but for the present too.

    I don’t understand why everyone keeps saying it would never work. Why not just try? I find it hard to believe that there aren’t tons of farms around many school districts. In my own state (RI) we have hundreds of farms, and our land isn’t even great for farming! There is no need for kids to eat mozzarella sticks every day… delicious veggie sandwiches and baby carrots and fresh fruits would be just as tasty. And if a child is presented with only those options from the beginning, they will eat them.

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  66. I agree that school lunches could be a little on the healthier side, however with the small amount of money our nation allots for public schools I don’t see that happening any time soon. Teachers who are molding and shaping our future leaders are some of the lowest paid professionals out there. Yet celebrities and sports stars who only entertain us are some of the highest. Maybe we should encourage them to donate a portion of their salaries to fund the school lunch programs for healthier choices?

  67. It’s not a question of black vs. white: all organic, all local, all the time vs. processed junk food. Really, it’s a question of giving kids healthy, nutritious and edible lunches that can be made within the context of available resources and willing staff. And not every school will have the same lunch. If Berkeley wants to and can go Alice Waters, great. I would really like to see beans and tortillas served in some schools. VERY nutritious indeed, with salsas plus a green salad on the side, maybe. Perhaps non-hydrogenated peanut butter and regular old jelly on GOOD whole wheat bread (Orowheat?) sometimes. Or grilled cheese sandwiches made with real cheese. And as someone suggested, soup. Hearty vegetable soups to accompany the sandwiches. The veggies could be chopped in huge quantities; chickens cooked in huge pots for the broth with the meat used for maybe chicken pot pie. Or maybe enchiladas.
    Seasonings made available to kids would enliven what they might find a little bit different.
    If the food is not processed, that is, denatured, but cooked as real food in large quantities it can be relatively inexpensive and relatively nutritious.
    Soups and stews are characteristic of many great cuisines. They can be produced in bulk and they are healthy AND delicious. They don’t require delicate handling OR organic local vegetables that haven’t been frozen or canned. Root vegetables — potatoes, carrots, turnips and the like of course can be used fresh and are available and store well in cool places for months. Peel them, cut them up and dump them in the pot. Schools — students as well as teachers and cooks and menu plannerss– could go visit local farmers markets and also local wholesale produce markets. Much to be learned!

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