What’s worse: a mayo sandwich or school lunch?

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The fact that I used to eat the occasional mayonnaise sandwich – on Wonder Bread – might have something to do with my current cholesterol problem.

Or it might not, as high cholesterol runs rampant in my family.

That said, I’m sure it didn’t help that I truly did eat mayo sandwiches in grade school, then graduated to ‘kosher salami on white with mayo’ in high school (my best friend’s brother was so horrified, he phoned his parents at what the crazy shiksa girl was eating…but that’s another story.)

Now, of course, the thought of a mayo sandwich is truly revolting.

How it wasn’t revolting then is beyond me. But hey, I was a kid. I didn’t know any better. I ate what was there.

Which is why Lunch Wars, by Amy Kalafa, is a must-read for anyone concerned about the food served in our nation’s schools.

Are schools serving up Hellman’s or Miracle Whip sandwiches on Wonder Bread?

No.

But they might as well be, given the poor nutritional value of school lunches.

In Lunch Wars, Ms. Kalafa details the many serious failings in our nation’s school lunch programs.  There are scores of issues with the lunches served in most schools – from the inner city to the wealthiest suburb. “I found equally poor quality food and toxic food environments in both wealthy and poor school districts.”

She goes on to say, “I didn’t realize that the school system was actually undermining our family’s healthy food habits until I went to my daughter’s middle school… she had been purchasing Pop-Tarts, Rice Krispie Treats, French fries and soft drinks on a daily basis.”

In Lunch Wars, statistics abound regarding childhood obesity and nutritional failings in our schools:

“By their own assessment, our government determined that American schools are flunking lunch: A 2007 School Nutrition Dietary Assessment concluded that the vast majority of schools in America exceed USDA guidelines for the quantities of saturated fat, total fat and sodium in school lunches.”

Further, Ms. Kalafa explains that change is incredibly difficult because schools depend on meeting governmental regulations – many of which defy logic – to qualify for subsidies and reimbursements. Worse, many schools actually use food service to MAKE MONEY and are thus more interested in the revenue potential of what they are serving rather than in the nutritional value for the kids

It’s a sad state of affairs. And those suffering are the kids.

That said, Lunch Wars also features success stories. In particular, I was captivated by the stories of two kids who incited huge change in their schools.  In Virginia, Nina Gonzalez successfully petitioned to add vegetarian dishes to her high school’s lunch menu and has testified before Congress.  And seventh grader (that’s 11 years old, people) Gabby Scharlach wrote a “Proposal for an Edible Schoolyard at Miller Creek Middle School,” and then got it built.  Her blog, Miller Creek Edible Garden tells her tale in photos – and OK, she clearly had help (her mother is a landscape architect), but still, what this 7th grader did — and is still doing today — is inspiring.

If you want to do something about the food program in your kids’ schools, this book is for you. At its core, Lunch Wars is a ‘how-to’ book for inciting change in your own school district, with many step-by-step, realistic suggestions.

It’s also worth a visit to their really well-done website. Amy Kalafa is a filmmaker whose movie, Two Angry Moms, “shows not only on what is wrong with school food, it offers strategies for overcoming roadblocks and getting healthy, good tasting, real food into school cafeterias. The movie explores the roles the federal government, corporate interests, school administration and parents play in feeding our country’s school kids.”

To read more about Lunch Wars, visit the BlogHer Lunch Wars page, where in addition to other book reviews, you’ll find interesting discussions like, ‘Do you know what your kids are really eating in school?’ and ‘School lunches I have known.

Disclosure: This was a paid review for BlogHer Book Club but the opinions expressed are my own. Especially, and sadly, the mayo sandwich part.

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One thought on “What’s worse: a mayo sandwich or school lunch?

  1. It does sound like an interesting book, and I did really enjoy the other book you reviewed–Amor Towles’ RULES OF CIVILITY.

    But I do have a few questions about LUNCH WARS. In your review you tell us that the author visited her child’s school, where she discovered her child making unhealthy food choices. Were there other choices to make? Were there freshly made sandwiches and fresh soups? Or was her child simply making unhealthy choices?

    I’m especially struck by the author’s phrase: “unhealthy food environments,” because I want to know exactly what that means.

    In my town, parents have battled and won many food fights (sorry for the pun). Changes have been made. Which is not to say more couldn’t be done.

    One of my hugest frustrations (and I’m having the Eureka! Thought that this must have to do with cost) is to have my kids come home and tell me about how they spent 2/3 of their lunch time waiting on line to make a purchase.

    Especially frustrating is the fact that they both attend state of the art schools where classrooms are outfitted with Smartboards and laptops and staff are (relatively) well paid. But they can’t get lunch in time to eat it at a somewhat leisurely pace.

    Thanks for the interesting review–I will definitely check out this book.

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