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A Matter of Taste

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WHY IS INSTITUTIONAL FOOD IN AMERICA SO CRAPPY?

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A typical school lunch. Would you eat this?

A typical school lunch in USA. Would you eat this?

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School lunch Italy

School lunch Italy. Which lunch do you want?

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In the 1950’s my brothers and I walked to and from elementary school four times a day. Why four times? We went home for lunch.

No child walks home for lunch these days.

And the food police, food scolds, and clueless politicians wonder why kids are over weight these days. HARUMP!!!

My school had a kitchen and a lunch room, mostly for children who rode the bus to school. My brothers and I ate at school a few times. My high school had a kitchen and a lunch room too.

These were real kitchens with real food being cooked. The school food I ate as a child smelled and looked like real food and was served on real plates and we used real utensils.

Fast Forward To My Teaching Days

There were no lunch rooms let alone kitchens in the public schools where I taught. Some school districts did have them, but they were mostly high schools and/or rural school districts.

The first few years I taught school in the public school system most children walked home for lunch.

Lunch time was no less than sixty minutes; a nice break for both children and teachers.

However, some students never went home, preferring to stop at the nearest small neighborhood store to buy candy and potato chips for lunch. Some children went home to an empty house and no lunch.

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So Begins the Age of Institutional Food

So the powers that be, including the federal government, decided that it would be better if children had a hot lunch. Not a bad idea. However…………..

………..No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

Problem was there were no kitchens or lunch rooms in many or most public elementary schools.

Nevertheless, in its infinite wisdom the federal government decided to contract with large companies – often times donors to their re-election coffers – many times located hundreds of miles from the school. These companies made and sent pre-made frozen lunches to schools.

Pre-packaged lunches and dinners is a multi-million dollar industry!

Other institutions like hospitals, retirement homes, and jails also buy a substantial amount of food from these food factories.

Thing is, we don’t know when these frozen meals were prepared. They are over cooked in the first place. Then we do not know how long they sit in the freezer before being shipped to the school. When they get to the school they also may sit in the school freezer for several days. To make sure the lunch is even blander and unappetizing the food is reheated again at the school.

By this time any taste and any nutrition normally found in food is purely unintentional.

What Could Go Wrong?

Since there were no kitchens or stoves in the schools the government also had to send huge microwaves to the schools to ‘cook’ the stuff.

Schools had to shut down their gym for at least ninety minutes a day to nuke the food, set up portable tables, and line up the children to pick up their container of food. In a few schools children have to eat lunch on the classroom.

Thus the 20 Minute School Lunch Was Born

1 lunch 4Many schools had so many children they had to be fed in shifts. This led to the 20 minute lunch period.

How insane is that? How healthy is eating that fast? You certainly do not have time for manners or to linger over tasting good food.

Children went straight from class, were herded in long lines to pick up their aluminum foil dish and plastic utensils, and given 20 minutes to NOT eat the free meal because most of the food is thrown in the trash can.

Our tax dollars at work.

Institutional Insanity

So now we now have children who pretend to eat unappetizing and tasteless food at warp speed, who have less time to exercise (walk to and from school and less recess time) and who waste more money and food by throwing away most of it anyway!!!!

Hypocrisy On Parade

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As if all of this isn’t bad enough these lunches also break every food rule the U.S. of A. government tells us to follow.

How many ways can I spell hypocrisy?

These meals are heavily laden with salt and fat. Fresh fruit and vegetables are seldom used except for corn and wheat. Low cost meats are used and to disguise the taste they are heavily covered in gravy.

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Why Institutional Food Is So Unappetizing and Tasteless

thIt is not just schools that serve poor food.

Unfortunately the system I describe above is basically the way we feed people in many institutions in America, including hospitals and retirement homes to name a few.

I have become more acutely aware of this since I began visiting my brother who lives  in a good and decent retirement home. My brother hates the food and complains to me every time I am with him. He says it has no taste.

Institutional food is not for sustenance. It is for convenience and to save money.  To hell with our children and our loved ones.

Unfortunately the pre-made and frozen foods have been around for over thirty years now. It will be hard to change back.

Change – Can It Be Done?

In a few places there are some signs changes are taking place. I did not find any changes in schools. But there are some hospitals making changes.

Hopefully change will occur over time in all institutions.

One of the first issues in providing good food is training of staff in cooking skills including how to use cooking tools. When all you have done for years is place an order and then simply take pre-cooked meals out of the box and heat it actually fixing a meal is scary.

Cost Is An Issue

Another stumbling block to serving real food is cost. Fixing real food means hiring more employees. It takes fewer employees to re-heat frozen food

However, at Sacred Heart Hospital in Eau Claire, Wisconsin things are changing.

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Sacred Heart’s kitchen now serves meatloaf made of hamburger from Vic and Mary Price’s Out to Pasture Beef in Fall Creek, chicken from Eileen McCutchen’s Angel Acres in Mason, pork from Jim and Alison Deutsch’s Family Farm near Osseo, and lots of other locally sourced items.

[…snip…..

Sacred Heart isn’t alone in seeking reform. Kaiser Permanente, the nation’s largest nonprofit health group, sponsors more than 35 farmers markets and has partnered with a farm group to provide local produce at 22 of its Northern California facilities. Other hospitals have cracked down on junk-food vending machines, started their own on-site gardens, or followed Sacred Heart’s lead by committing themselves to food from local sources.

From Utne Reader and by Marc Eisen, from The Progressive
March-April 2011

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th 1Food and Memories

In a poignant essay Darra Goldstein writes about her mother, who was a good cook cook, entering a long-care institution and having to eat institutional fare.

I took a phrase from her essay for the title of this post – “Thriving in old age isn’t simply a matter of nutrition—it’s a matter of taste.”

She writes:

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But even in her diminished state she discerns what tastes good and what does not, and she responds accordingly.

This experience is shared by many people who find themselves in institu­tional care at the end of their lives. Yet hardly anyone is speaking about better food for the elderly. Their eating habits are not a public health issue, like type 2 diabetes or childhood obesity. But providing pleasure through food is not frivolous; what and how we eat are crucial to the quality of our lives.

[ Snip ]

Swedish studies have shown that the foods served in old-age homes make a huge difference in the way people feel, even those suffering from dementia. Familiar foods can stimulate memories and improve cognition. The aromas and flavors of times past enable us to reconnect with the world, reawakening appetite not only for food but for life.

[ Snip ]

Thriving in old age is not simply a question of calorie counts and nutritional supplements. People of all ages deserve to enjoy their meals. Food should not be seen solely as sustenance, a means to keep people alive, but also as an opportunity to connect people in their declining years with memories they hold close. [From UTNE Magazine.]

[All emphasis mine.]

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To that I can only say, ‘Amen.’

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Featured Recipe   Apple Raspberry Sauced Pork Chops

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Ahhhhhh, fall is on the air. Today’s recipe is part fall – apples, and part summer – raspberries. A marriage made in heaven. Best of all it is a quick and easy recipe with loads of flavor.

This is what you will need for 4 people:

4 pork boneless pork chops

1 Granny Smith apple

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 tablespoons butter

¼ cup flour

Salt and pepper to taste

For the Sauce

1/3 cup raspberry vinegar

2 tablespoons almond extract

2-3 tablespoons butter

½ cup raspberries

Juice of 1 lemon

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Here is what you do:

Wash the raspberries. Wash and slice the apple. Squirt some lemon juice over the slices to keep them from turning dark.

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Salt and pepper the pork chops to taste. Dredge in the flour, shaking off any excess.

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Heat the olive oil then add 2 tablespoons butter over medium heat.

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Place the chops in the melted butter and brown on both sides, 2-4 minutes per side, unless your chops are thick.

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Place the chops on a baking sheet and keep warm.

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Since this is a fast moving recipe I like to set up an assembly line of the ingredients so that I can work lickety-split.

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Drain the butter from the skillet.

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Add the vinegar and the extract to the skillet. Heat until the liquid reduces and begins to thicken.

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Remove the skillet from the heat. Add the butter and shake until butter incorporates into the sauce. Then add the raspberries.

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Place a pork chop on each plate and add some apples to the side. Ladle the sauce and raspberries over all.

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Serve with rice pilaf and a salad.

Bon Appétite
Cost

4 boneless pork chops          $3.99

¼ cup flour                         $0.08

1 Granny Smith apple            $1.15

1 tablespoon olive oil            $0.34

2 tablespoons butter             $0.26

Salt and pepper

For the Sauce

1/3 cup raspberry vinegar   $0.60

2 tbspns almond extract      $0.48

2-3 tablespoons butter        $0.26

½ cup raspberries              $3.99

Juice of 1 lemon                 $0.59

Total cost = $11.74
Cost per person = $2.94

Quote of the Day

Too many people just eat to consume calories. Try dining for a change.

John Walters

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8 comments to A Matter of Taste

  • Leslie

    So, what is in the main tray in the picture of the lunch from US? I think I see a noodle.

  • I am old enough to remember a school with a proper kitchen and real food where everything including the bread was cooked from scratch.

    I visited the family oldies at the nursing home today and got talking with 4 of the residents and the main complaint is always about the food. It’s 5-star accommodation they said. Yes, but it’s not 5-star food. It costs nearly a million for a bond to get in there (and we have 2 of them) and the government chips in too. It’s either quiche made in a sheet pan and cut into squares or stew but it always has a fancy French name.

    They tell me that they have little more to look forward to than sitting down with their friends for meals and not to be able to eat drives them nuts. Ours pay an extra fee in order to get more choices that they won’t eat. Nuts!

    • Roberta

      So sad, Maureen, that the bad institutional food is a world wide issue/problem and not just here in USA!

  • No kidding! And yes, amen. It can be done. We must have the will to do it.

  • Think of the benefit to local communities if more hospitals and other institutions sourced food locally. If the government doesn’t want to employ more staff to cook the food what about sub-contracting the food preparation out to local individuals/ catering businesses?

    That would be another boost to the local economies.

    Lunches provided at school was unheard of in Africa. Even at High school, we started at 8 am finished at 1 pm. On Wednesdays we had an hour break then 2 hours afternoon classes. Compulsory sport on 2 other afternoons. We took our own sandwiches, fruit and non-carbonated beverage. Tuck shops only opened for the mid morning 30 minute break and had a limited range of snacks.

    Same system was in force when my sons finished high school in 1994 and I believe still is.

    • Roberta

      Sounds like a good system to me, Peter. Makes too much sense for the powers that be in American schools. I mean, what else can we expect from an administration that suspended a young boy who bit a pop-tart in the shape of a gun????? Maybe historians will call this ‘The Age of Insanity’ some day.