Today, all the students move back on campus and start their spring semester classes tomorrow. I again get to benefit from having somewhat of a meal plan, allowing me to eat in the dining halls for free and sleep in an extra few minutes since I no longer have to pack a lunch.
I’m frequently torn on whether to take advantage of this–as the saying goes “there’s no such thing as a free lunch.” Free lunch for me sometimes means additional calories and extra temptations, even though there are MANY healthy options at the college dining hall (extensive salad bar, soups, a “balanced plate” option, sandwiches, omelets, etc.). The problem is that I typically have to talk myself OUT of visiting the cookie/dessert bar each day. But today I read something–two things actually–that made me pretty effing grateful and more optimistic that my lunch deal was a good deal.
First, I read this article on why junk food is typically better than the lunches you’d typically get in the public school system. Apparently, the quality of meat that kids in the K-12 public school system consume really is mystery meat. It’s not monitored as rigorously as products at fast food restaurants and the quality of meat is barely above the standards that would be used for pet food. (Side note: why are our pets also getting poor-quality food?)
Since colleges and universities typically contract a company (Chartwells and Sodexo are two of the more popular ones) and these companies typically function as caterers in a sense. They develop a meal plan, purchase food from a variety of suppliers (they typically don’t have access to a federally subsidized meat provider) and prepare and serve said food. Most of the food (even soups) is made from scratch where I work.
Then I saw this blog by a K-12 teacher who is using her hard-earned salary to purchase (ugh… and eat) and document the typical cafeteria meal at school in 2010. I’m already horrified and it’s only a couple weeks into the project. I hope she’ll address the potential issues with the fact that all of this food appears to be cooked and served in plastic or styrofoam. Don’t schools know the FDA is investigating the possible health risks of BPA in food packaging? Plus it’s not sustainable in the least.
I’m so glad my meals don’t look like that. Nor do I remember meals in K-12 being quite that horrifying. Whatever happened to the line-up of middle aged women in floral aprons and hairnets scooping steamed frozen peas and carrots from massive aluminum chafing pans? It appears as if this generation of lunch ladies simply swivel from the microwave to the lunch tray.