Growing up in a small Midwestern town was certainly not a culinary experience. Surrounded by McDonald’s and Burger Kings, the most gourmet offering I could find as a kid was the Shamrock Shake. And I hated mint. My mom was the one person who really supported my early love of food, and she did this mainly through my school lunches. The hot lunch program at my school was a joke, literally, not providing anything edible and serving minuscule portions that would make orphan Oliver himself kick someone in the junk and definitely NOT ask for some more. But my mom always packed me an exciting lunch, full of the good food other parents wouldn’t allow their kids to eat. Sometimes it would be the latest fruit snacks or the best Little Debbie cakes, other times it would be a grilled cheese sandwich or a thermos of warm, delicious soup. Her options were not always the healthiest, but she appreciated my interest (OBSESSION) in new food items and helped out when she could. In middle school terms, I was gangsta. I could trade for literally any food I wanted. I was the godfather of school lunches. My favorite school lunch ever happened every year on my birthday. My mom would run down to the local corner shop and pick up an Italian focaccia sandwich. Now today, that doesn’t sound very exciting, what with the heaps of panini shops and Subways and Quiznos and all those other gourmet sandwich shops. But back in the early 80s, when the most exotic food I had tasted was the sweet and sour sauce at Micky D’s, this was like a trip straight to Venice and back.
The sandwich was on this soft, fluffy focaccia bread studded with moist, garlicky sun-dried tomatoes. On the sandwich was a melange of meaty goodness with spicy capicola, salami, pepperoni and other cured meat products I was too young to know about, mozzarella cheese, and it was topped off with some spicy giardiniera that was to die for. Every year from fourth grade through senior year of high school, my mom went out of her way to hook me up with that sandwich, along with a thermos of soup and some sweet snacks. No matter how you look at it, the quality of school lunches affect everyone, even those well out of school. When I got to high school, I would buy food from the cafeteria, typically a hot dog and fries or a taco and fries. The few healthy options for me looked and tasted awful, so I went for what I knew would taste good. The problem was that by the time I graduated, I had no clue what healthy eating for lunch entailed. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one-fourth of all children between the ages of 6 and 11 were overweight in 2007. Two years ago, when I heard writer Eric Schlosser speak about his latest book (Chew on This) about the dangers of fast food aimed at kids, two young men were also present that Mr. Schlosser had written about. These young men were no older than 13 or 14, but both had made it a habit to eat McDonald’s for lunch every day. And both had already had a gastric bypass surgery because of their lunchtime McDonald’s addiction. 14 year olds! Getting the same surgery that girl from Wilson-Phillips got! How is that okay? School lunch programs need to change, and now is the time to act. In 2009, the Child Nutrition Act is up for reauthorization, which means we still have a chance to change the nutrition and funding for school lunches. I am working with the Healthy Schools Campaign to get 10,000 people to sign our petition that we plan on presenting to President Obama in 2009. Whether you have children or not, it has been proven that school lunches play an important part in the health and education of the nation’s children. And children are the future, so unless you want a bunch of overweight, lazy, pimply sloth children running the country when you are old and gray, you need to speak up now. Take action and sign the petition at http://www.healthyschoolscampaign.org/getinvolved/action/childnutrition/action.php. Thanks for your support! ~LTG! Want to learn more? Check out my other blog post about this project here.