Searching For Food In The Cafeteria

Searching For Food In The Cafeteria

Mon 10 Oct 2011

Story by Kate Adamick

If you’re among those who still question whether school food is really as bad as the media makes it out to be, consider visiting your local school and asking yourself the following questions:

1. Are the foods served in my school’s cafeteria aglow with colors not found in nature? A cafeteria should be filled with color. But the colors should remind you of a farmers market in August, not a box of neon crayons. If a product is day-glo blue or a similar psychedelic hue, it probably originated in a chemistry lab, not on a farm.

2. Does the cafeteria smell like a cheap diner? If the aroma of stale fryer grease lingers in the air, you can be sure that French fries, popcorn chicken and onion rings can’t be far away. A cafeteria should smell like Grandma’s kitchen on a holiday, not like a fast food chain. Deep fryers have no place in a school cafeteria.

3. Did I take a wrong turn and end up at a professional sports arena? School is not a once-a-year outing to a big league sporting event. Your child doesn’t need to choose among hot dogs, burgers, pizza and nachos every day. Only one of those items should be available at a time, and not more than once or twice a month for each.

4. If I melt down the cans from which the food came, will I have enough metal to build a small submarine? Food doesn’t grow in cans, and shouldn’t be served from them. Fruits and vegetables should be fresh and, whenever possible, local and seasonal.

5. Is the chicken masquerading as a dinosaur? Chickens don’t have fingers. Nor do they grow in the shape of dinosaurs, dolphins or stars. The food industry likes us to think that children will only eat poultry in cute little shapes so that it can lower production costs with cheap soy and vegetable fillers, not to mention chemical preservatives, transfats and high fructose corn syrup.

6. Gee, am I in the science lab. Real food doesn’t come with labels requiring a PhD in chemistry to decipher. Believe it or not, it’s possible to operate a cafeteria in which there are no labels other than on the side of the milk cartons. The more time you spend “reading your food,” the less likely it is to be real food.

7. Why do the snack foods for sale remind me of my favorite Super Bowl commercials? Children eat enough chips, candy, cookies, doughnuts, and artificially sweetened and flavored beverages during the week. Schools shouldn’t be tempting kids to spend their lunch money on those items every day in the cafeteria. Fresh fruit and vegetables make perfectly good snacks.

8. Would I be able to see the bread in a blizzard? White is the preferred color for snow, but not such a great color for bread. There’s truth in the harsh old saw, “The whiter the bread, the sooner you’re dead.” Beware, too, of the spongy brown stuff that’s been colored with molasses and filled with high fructose corn syrup designed to trick you into thinking it is good for you. Bread should be various shades of tan, and come in different shapes and sizes, with chewy, flavorful crusts and visible whole grains and seeds.

9. Are all these colorful toucans and leprechauns running for student body president? Real food doesn’t come tattooed with cartoon characters. When adorably animated personalities are promoting products the way pushes peddle drugs, the food industry is misusing the market place by exploiting your child.

10. Are the beverages the kind favored by long distance truck drivers, night watchmen, and global stock exchange traders? Kids don’t need a caffeine-induced jolt, boost or buzz to get through their day. They need balanced meals made with fresh, whole foods prepared in healthful ways to keep their blood sugar levels even and their energy levels high. Caffeine is addictive. Canned and bottled beverages, coffee and teas should all be caffeine-free.

About the author: Kate Adamick is Co-Founder of Cook for America,, the author of the upcoming book, Lunch Money: Serving Healthy School Food in a Sick Economy and one of our Food Revolution Heroes.


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