School Hard: Grist Digs into School Lunch Programs

Grist, the webzine focused on environmental and sustainability issues, recently ran a six-part series on middle school lunches in Washington, D.C. The writer, Ed Bruske, spent a week in the cafeteria at his daughter's school. To say his findings were disturbing would be an understatement. I found myself talking about this series to friends and family all week.

The district recently switched from pre-packaged meals (think airplane food or TV dinners) to "fresh cooked" food. Sounds like an improvement, right? Too bad "cooking" simply means reheating intensely processed food in giant steamers, and maybe stirring in a bit of shredded cheese. Take "eggs" for example:

The “scrambled” eggs come out looking more like pale yellow cottage cheese. According to the nutrition label on the box from Michael Foods in Minnetonka, Minnesota, they are made with “whole eggs, skim milk, soybean oil, modified corn starch, xanthan gum, liquid pepper extract, citric acid, natural and artifical butter flavor, lipolized butter oil, medium chain triglycerides, natural and artificial flavors.”

The whole series is really worth a read. Bruske tackles the environmental toll of the waste generated in a place where everything is disposable (silverware, trays, drink containers), the bizarre goverment restrictions that lead to meals dangerously high in sugar and carbohydrates, and the terrifying phenomenon known as "beef crumbles."