Great green gobs of greasy grimy gopher guts
Little dirty birdies’ feet
Mutilated monkey meat
Pale pink piles of petrified pelican poo
That’s what we’re going to eat.
Actually in China there are times when I’ve been served meals not all that different as my smiling hosts told me that the guts are the best part of the gopher. I smiled back and ate. They wouldn’t lie about a thing like that, would they?
Long before the pink slime panic, I wanted nothing to do with school food. The smell of overcooked turnip greens hung heavy in the cafeteria of Pundit Elementary school, and with all the conviction and clarity that a six year old can bring to such matters, I rejected the whole stinking mess from the very depths of my soul. If I was going to eat anything in that chamber of horrors, it would be food my own mother packed for me in the safety of our kitchen at home.
The Grand Matriarch at that time was in her twenties, and I was the oldest of four — and the only one in school. Her hands were full, and this sudden demand that she add a daily lunch packing item to her morning to do list did not go over well. But it can be easier to make a sandwich than fight a six year old, and in the end I won. Mom agreed to let me take my lunch to school.
Over the years I did not change my position on school food, and the Matriarch figured out how to keep me fed every day without overburdening her mornings. Sometime around Labor Day she went to the local A&P and bought out the Wonder Bread. (Yes, in those dark days even college educated, conscientious moms fed processed non-organic grains to their children; the Baby Boom generation would have been much larger than it is had not so many of us died from malnutrition and pesticide poisoning in our youth.) She also picked up some industrial sized peanut butter, cleared out the jelly aisle and picked up some aluminum foil, cheaper than cling wrap for ordinary household use back in those far gone days.
When we got home from the store, she’d lay out slices of bread assembly line style in the kitchen, and we’d go through them slapping peanut butter and jelly on alternating slices, spreading them, flipping the jelly slice over the peanut butter slice, then go back and slice them, organize them into piles of two, then wrap each pile and stick it in the freezer.
This made the morning lunch routine manageable: every school morning she’d pull out a sandwich pack, stick it in my lunch box with an apple or two, and put it in the bike basket with the books as I headed off to school.
Usually this worked pretty well, though if we had early lunch for any reason, the sandwiches might still be a bit frozen and I’d have to nibble around the edges until the peanut butter thawed. Also from time to time there were some issues with ants. (To this day, I’m not particularly fond of strawberry jelly. Those little pips remind me of the jelly-loving ants of my youth.)
But on the whole, it worked out — Mom didn’t clutter up her busy mornings with yet another chore, and there were no greasy grimy gopher guts on my daily menu.
These days, the social workers would probably come by and slap me in a foster home due to my mother’s failure to include some nice veggies in those lunches though I certainly wouldn’t have eaten them; possibly also she didn’t have the proper Food Storage Unit permits. I say nothing about her failure to buy hypoallergenic fair trade jellies from the Whole Paycheck store or the depraved indifference to human life that sent me off to school every morning without so much as a Consumer Reports approved bicycle helmet on my head.
In any case, the Great Pink Slime War of 2012 has me wondering why on earth school lunches are a federal matter. Surely this is something states, cities and towns or even local schools (perhaps in association with the PTA) can work out? My guess is that the closer to the local level decisions are made, the more common sense will prevail.
Though blue model advocates will defend this system on various high-minded grounds, confident that only life-tenured civil service bureaucrats with Advanced Degrees have the necessary knowledge and independence to decide what the nation’s children eat every day, I am not impressed. The time honored process of regulatory capture ensures as often as not that federal food guidance and regulations significantly lag scientific conclusions (changeable as these are) on nutrition and relatively consistently favor the interests of Big Ag. The reality is probably that it’s more convenient for big agricultural groups to tweak national school purchases by shaping the guidelines through regulatory capture and that, politically, is why this is a national matter.
Let’s be clear: if school lunches shouldn’t be settled at the local level, democracy is doomed. If we actually need federal bureaucrats to tell us what to feed our children, the republic is finished and it is time to close up shop. We are so clueless and careless as a nation that the first determined group of barbarians to come along can push us over.
Local control is not going to give the “best” answer 100 percent of the time — but neither is any other system of administration and control. At least when these things are controlled at the local level, mistakes only affect a small number of people — and the people affected can make changes more easily than if a national bureaucracy is responsible for the dumb move.
The solution my mother found to my school lunch problem wasn’t nutritionally perfect. There wasn’t a lot of variety in what I ate. She had no scientific studies to tell her what happened to the nutritional value of peanut butter when it’s been in the freezer for nine months. But she balanced my preferences, her needs and our tight family budget to come up with a solution that worked pretty well for us, all things considered.
And I didn’t have to eat gopher guts and monkey meat until I grew up and went to China, where at least they were properly prepared.