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Friday, April 13, 2012

Meatless School Lunches: Impossible Dream?

I have no kid in the fight over pink slime in school lunches, but I've been fascinated to watch it play out. People are actually making the case that either there's no problem with serving ammonia-treated beef paste or it would cost too much to dish up less processed meat. Call me antediluvian, but to me shortchanging children feels like cookin' the seed corn. Don't we want them both nourished and educated if they're going to be taking over the world (and taking care of us old people)?

It's the second contention that makes me wonder why meat is considered so essential. Rice and beans, or beans and corn, will make a complete protein. (Ironically enough, my mom was taught that basic food science in the New York City public schools in the 1930s, when home ec was considered essential and beef lobbyists did not rule. And that enabled her to feed a litter of seven on almost nothing.) But I've heard parents complaining on the radio that their kids need meat.

So I was happy to hear this report last week on NPR, on India feeding schoolkids nutritious lunches sans slime for all of 11 cents a day. It's worth a listen or at least a read to hear how it's done and what it's accomplished: "Attendance goes up, malnutrition level comes down, dropout rate comes down."

Then again, I heard Eric Schlosser on WNYC last week say a peanut butter and jelly sandwich would be preferable to pink slime. To which his host, Brian Lehrer, asked: "What about food allergies?" Life in "the world's richest country" is very complicated . . .

by Regina Schrambling

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