National School Lunch Week starts on Monday and I'd like to commend all those dedicated cafeteria workers for all the effort they put into serving nutritious meals and for all they put up with from the mainstream media and people who have never even visited a school cafeteria.
Their many offerings include vegetarian entrees using locally grown veggies whenever possible, whole grain breads and lots of fresh fruit. And it's this last menu item I really want to hash over.
While subbing in a Title I school, I saw kids mangling apples with a fork and squishing bananas like giant zits. One kid put an orange on the floor and squashed it with a chair leg. When I asked them why they did it, their answers varied. "I'm being creative." "It's mine. I can do what I want with it. "They made me take it."
Yes, that's true. The federal government mandates that the kids take two sides whether they want them or not. But isn't there something else they can do with that unwanted fruit?
Well, people have tried. At another more affluent school, I remember a teacher who stood in front of the garbage cans with a humongous metal bowl and collected all the untouched fruit the kids didn't want. She took it to the local co-op, where it was welcomed with open arms. Only problem was that someone from the federal government got wind of this practice and in at least one case, GCPS got fined for this illegal act.
I checked with officials at GCPS and learned that USDA does allow for the donation of food to charities, but the mile-long list of regulations and monitoring expenses (I won't bore you with the legalese) make it nearly impossible for a system the size of GCPS to manage. In other words, as I understand it, we don't want to have to spend millions on more bean counters to make sure cafeteria workers don't over order food so they can give it to their own charity and we don't want some poor homeless person suing the school system because he claims to have gotten a bad apple. OK. I get it. But what about the kid who fills up on the main entree and wants to take the fruit home for an after school snack?
Can't do that either. It's a federal offense to take any food out of the cafeteria, so what kid wants to do time in juvy over a forbidden apple?
I know it's complicated. I also know that 53 percent or 87,300 of GCPS students are on free or reduced lunch. Figuring, let's say, 20 cents per banana, you can make up your own math problem to estimate how much of our tax money cafeteria workers have to watch kids toss in the trash every day. I'm just here to let them know someone out there appreciates the fruits of their labor.
Susan Larson is a writer from Lilburn. Email her at email@example.com.