School Lunches

23 August 2001

Well, I had a little altercation with The Joy of Cooking last night. Everybody came out of it unharmed, but it was a near thing. I wanted to make boeuf bourgignonne. I had never made boeuf bourgignonne. So I looked in our cookbooks to see who had guidelines. Only The Joy of Cooking did. I read them. "This is going to taste like beef," I said suspiciously. (Meat that tastes like itself -- why bother?) "There's nothing in it." So I added garlic where they said there should be none. I doubled the thyme in their recipe, doubled the bay leaf (they called for half of one for the amount of beef I had), messed with the pepper, threw in mushrooms (I knew there had to be mushrooms), but all restrainedly. Didn't know how it would come out tasting.

It tasted like beef. Why bother? So next time I'll ignore them completely and go nuts with the garlic and thyme and pepper and red wine, and maybe marinate it overnight, that might be good. And maybe put in some other spices they don't think belong in there, because The Joy of Cooking doesn't seem to believe in spices. It will get you food you can physically eat (not too raw, not overdone), but you won't want to bother. I hate The Joy of Cooking.

Ah well. I made poached pears for dessert, and while they were a bit firmer than one might prefer, they turned out roughly as I had intended, and were good.

I love objective journalism these days. From the front page of the Merc: "Kids who like to feast on a smorgasbord of junk foods in school cafeterias and vending machines across the state now have powerful allies -- principals, superintendents, and food-service administrators." What side is this reporter on? Hmm. I wonder.

They've been going back and forth about vending machines in the schools for months now. The part that initially amused me was the assumption that the Evil Junk Food Companies were sneaking their nasty product in to the helpless students. As if the students woke up one day to find vending machines. "Hey, what's this, chums?" "It looks unlike our usual fare. Perhaps we should try it." "Chaps, I don't know. The wholesome, fresh food that we receive from school lunches and prepackaged processed meats and cheese ought to be enough for us." "But it would be unsporting not to give it a chance!"

Heh. At my high school, at least, the student council fought tooth and nail to get soda machines installed. And my mother (although she knew I didn't drink soda) stared enviously at them when she first saw them at the high school. "In my day, we would have killed for soda machines at the school," she said. "Who would you have killed?" I asked. "Whoever it took," she said fervently.

What's my point here? Oh, I've got lots of 'em. I'm like Sputnik. First off, kids (teenagers) are eating junk food and drinking sugary sodas because they want to, because they like them. (You can make that "because their palates have been trained to like them," if you want to.) And I know, they're the kids and we're the grown-ups and we can tell them they can't if we want to. But kids come with their very own corresponding grown-ups, called parents. If parents don't want their kids eating crap out of the school vending machines, they can do something about it. If a large group of parents doesn't want their kids eating crap out of the school vending machines, they can make sure there aren't school vending machines. But passing a state-wide law seems to miss the point. And if parents don't care what their kids eat out of vending machines, having no vending machines is certainly not going to reduce childhood obesity, which is what the politicians say they're going for to begin with.

I would also suggest that a system in which a big portion of the kids requires a stimulant to get through the numbing boredom of their school day is somewhat suboptimal. As is a system in which a large portion of the kids doesn't get enough sleep at night because of doing hours of pointless busywork in addition to working a part-time dead-end job.

Further, I'd like to point out that places where the school cook has tried having fresh, nutritious, decently prepared lunches actually make more money and have more students eating the lunches. But that almost nobody is willing to try this, because it requires that they exert effort, and care, and stuff.

Ah well. None of that really matters. Because there's an opportunity to come out squarely in favor of Children's Health, and that's much more important than making sense.

I got a good rejection yesterday. The editor made it clear that he had read the story, and that he had enjoyed aspects of it -- and that he had remembered the previous story I'd sent him and enjoyed aspects of that enough to comment on them a second time. Is that not a good rejection? It is. Just trust me here.

Oh, and I'm getting my birthday package from my grandparents. When I get to Omaha, that is, because the post office labeled it unclaimed in the Hayward post office (which, incidentally, does not exist, as far as we've been able to find in the phone book) and shipped it back to them. Unclaimed. Definitely unclaimed. Because when you don't leave a claim ticket, people (logically enough) don't just pop up at the post office to see if you might happen to have something more for them. This seems like a rather poor system. But at least I get my birthday presents.

This afternoon, I'm going to hypothetically bake some bars and maybe some theoretical bread, in case someone I know should hypothetically buy a new house and have a housewarming party with his theoretical new writers' group and their families. And won't he be surprised.

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