Thursday, December 17, 2009

Things kids say ...

Last night Hannah didn't know where her Christmas dress was 30 minutes before we were to leave for church. The children's Chirstmas play was last night and they were in it. Jay said "c'mon Hannah / everyone just settle down and I'll help her find it" as they're walking towards her room. Out of my earshot Hannah says to Jay "SHE'S the one who needs to settle down..." LOL!! (It was true)

The other day it was cold and rainy. Jackson got all reflective as we were riding down the road talking about the weather. He says "I don't like the cold, and being wet. It makes me sad."

He has not worn dress clothes in two years. Last Saturday his best friend spent the night. Sunday I brought in dress clothes for him because his friend had brought dress clothes for church. After he was ready I ask him if he had done ... something (don't remember) and he throws his arms out and says "Mom!" looks down at his shoes and back up, then says "Froo-Froo!" hehe- he calls dressing up getting all "froo-froo". That's my boy.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

School lunches- are they safe?

I just read this article from that shares the alarming fact that government provided meat sent to the public schools to be served to students in school lunches do not even meet the quality standards required to be served at McDonalds and other fast food restaurants. That is scary! Or is it?

When I first started reading I was wondering if the issue wasn't more quality versus safety. We WANT our kids to be safe. Chicken that comes from Whole Foods can be equally as safe as chicken from Food Lion on the surface, but there's no denying, there's a difference in quality. There used to be an old saying around here (in NC, home of R.J.Reynolds Tobacco Company) about cigarettes, that the "cheaper" cigarettes are actually the scraps swept up on the floor at the end of the shift, put together and produced into products the next day. Ewww, would you really want to smoke that? Some people enjoyed the cheaper cigarettes more than that more expensive ones. Myself included, when I did smoke. However, I do prefer the higher quality chicken sold by Whole Foods over the chicken served by Food Lion. Some of my family members do not believe there is a difference, and is adamant about buying Food Lion because it costs less.

Cost- definitely a factor when purchasing food for millions of American school children to be served five days a week. Most certainly a factor when approximately 31 million children are participating in the National School Lunch program (NSLP), and 15.4 million of those children qualify for the Federally subsidized free lunch program. Even more a factor when you add in the school breakfast and snack programs available for students.
We want our children to have safe, quality food. Having experienced the lunch program last year in the kid's former charter school, I was NONE too impressed with what was offered and wondered who come up with the menu for these programs. Everything was pre-packaged, and reheated right before serving. Nothing was fresh, so how nutritious could it really be overall? (example) (I admit right now I'm the pot calling the kettle black with what mine are choosing to eat at school right now, but it's their choice, where they had no choice last year.)

The issue at hand:
'Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), the USDA agency that buys meat for the school lunch program, ... buys more than 100 million pounds of beef a year for schools,' ... and what was being questioned is how they determine what is safe for purchase for the nation's school children. The fast food chain Jack In The Box, come up with the "top notch" standards fast food chains strive to adhere to after they experienced a horrid outbreak of E Coli in some of their west coast stores, resulting in 450 people ill, and three deaths of children. As a result, they introduced a Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP) based system for the management of food safety. The USA Today study compared the food testing of the AMS to the HACCP system, and the result was it failed miserably. Is the government really feeding the children in the NSLP program "scraps"?

from the article:
"For chicken, the USDA has supplied schools with thousands of tons of meat from old birds that might otherwise go to compost or pet food. Called "spent hens" because they're past their egg-laying prime, the chickens don't pass muster with Colonel Sanders— KFC won't buy them — and they don't pass the soup test, either. The Campbell Soup Company says it stopped using them a decade ago based on "quality considerations." ...

"From late November 2008 through January this year, the AMS bought nearly 500,000 pounds of ground beef from Beef Packers and Skylark with unusually high levels of an indicator bacteria known as "generic E. coli." The organism is considered an indicator of whether potential contaminants from the intestines of cattle have gotten into slaughtered meat — a source of the far more dangerous E. coli O157:H7. ...

The indicator bacteria are measured in CFUs, or colony-forming units. Jack in the Box, which pioneered many of the safety standards now used across the fast-food industry, won't accept beef with generic E. coli levels of more than 100 CFUs per gram. The AMS, on the other hand, will buy beef for the school lunch program with generic E. coli counts of up to 1,000 CFUs per gram — 10 times the Jack in the Box limit. ...

E. coli isn't the only indicator bacteria that the AMS allows at higher levels. The government also accepts beef with more than double the limit set by many fast-food chains for total coliform, which is used to assess whether a beef producer is minimizing fecal contamination in its meat. ..."
Can we say "Fast Food Nation", anyone? {For the record, "spent hens" were discontinued in 2003 after reports were made of bones being in the chicken being served.} There's more. How aggressive is AMS in detecting these bacteria?
"On a given manufacturing day, AMS workers testing ground beef bound for schools sample the meat eight times, regardless of how long the production lines are running. Those samples are combined into a single composite sample for testing.

Jack in the Box, McDonald's, Burger King and other more selective buyers sample the ground beef on their production lines every 15 minutes. Some, such as Jack in the Box, combine those samples to create a composite sample for testing every hour during the production run. Others, such as McDonald's and Burger King, combine those samples to create a composite sample for testing every two hours.

That means Jack in the Box would test at least 10 composite samples during a typical 10-hour production run, which could yield 100,000 pounds or more of ground beef. The AMS would test just one sample for the entire 100,000-pound run."
It would not appear that the AMS is truly doing a lot to protect America's schoolchildren. What can parents do? There are a few things that could be done, but they require parents to get involved.
  1. The first is simple, pack your child's lunch. This way you KNOW what they are eating. This however, would not help your child's classmate who might not have a good home life, and their school lunch is the most nutritious meal of the day.
  2. Second, naturally, would be to contact your representatives about concerns about the safety of the meat being sent to our public school lunchrooms. Find your house representative here, and find your Senator(s) here. Note: Handwritten letters have a considerably stronger impact than emails and typed letters. Typed letters are scanned and tucked away in a file, as well as emails. Handwritten letters require more direct attention by the representative and their staffers.
  3. I believe it would be a fun project for schools to see what would be involved in your school having its own garden. Read this example of what an area school is doing with their students.
    Comment from the school: "Our gardens provide a new experience for our students since many live in apartments or areas where gardening is not possible. They are fascinated by the growth of vegetables and excited when we harvest and eat them. They love planting bulbs and seeds and even enjoy pulling weeds."
  4. A natural option would be to garden with your own children so they gain an appreciation for fresh foods and the benefits they offer.
  5. Check out Farm to School programs.
Pick one, and run with it. I've heard it said a thousand times since I become a parent but it's the truest statement ever: We are our children's strongest advocate, if we don't speak up for them, who will? I'll go a step further considering public schools- there are some children out there who are waiting for you to speak up for them, because their own parents and caregivers are not doing so. Such is the world we live in.