Why Did It Take ‘Pink Slime’ For Us To Pay Attention To Our Children’s Lunches?

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Pink SlimeBy now, we’ve all heard about the intense grossness that is “pink slime” beef. Mommyish’s sister-site Blisstree has been covering the controversy over this chemically-treated meat for weeks. In case that stomach-churning title has kept you away from the media firestorm, I’ll explain that “pink slime” beef is made from stray pieces of beef (as opposed to any one cut or part of the animal) and treated with ammonium hydroxide to kill possible infections.

Up until recently, this goo was used to make McDonald’s hamburgers, as well as the burgers served in school lunches. Even though the USDA has assured citizens that the product is safe for consumption, plenty of school boards have decided to ban “pink slime” from school lunches in the wake of parents’ outcries. In fact, as the New York Times reported this weekend, plenty of schools have stopped using beef at all until they can find a source for hamburger that promises not to use “pink slime.” It’s left plenty of kids with veggies or chicken as their only options, unless of course they bring their lunch from home.

My question about this whole controversy goes beyond possible mislabeled burgers. Why did it take something as sickening as “pink slime” beef to make us pay attention to school lunches? Did we really look at the school lunch program that demands well-balanced meals with the slimmest of slim budgets and assume that our little ones were getting top quality produce and meat?

It may have been eight years ago, but I remember school lunches like it was yesterday. They had the bland, over-processed taste of cardboard, or apparently ammonium hydroxide. The “salad bar” contained iceberg lettuce, bacon bits, croutons and ranch dressing. If you were lucky, there might be some sliced cucumbers. Days when I forgot my lunch generally meant cereal and milk.

Parents of my generation have lived through the mass production of school lunches. We know what comes out those factories and gets delivered to schools every morning in hot or cold crates. My parents were used to having an actual cook in their cafeteria kitchen, who made meals on site. I was used to tin-foil “hot packs” with add pasta concoctions that left me permanently scarred by the words “chicken marzetti.” Seriously, I just got chills up my spine.

We know that school lunches are often horrible and rarely the most nutritious. They rely heavily on carbs and have a horrible time when it comes to fresh produce. And obviously, the quality of their meat is lacking.

We’ve known this for a while. And yet we couldn’t stand up or get involved until “pink slime” began appearing in headlines. More than banning a single product with questionable chemicals, maybe we should be paying this kind of attention to school lunches as a whole. Maybe we should be encouraging our communities and our school systems to find ways to improve. Parents should know what types of products are serves to our kids and we should demand that those meals are labeled truthfully. Not just about beef, we should worry about all the food that our kids are being served.

“Pink slime” started this conversation, but as a mother with a daughter heading into pre-k next year, I really hope that it won’t be the end of it. I hope that we don’t forget about ammonium beef and the nutritional content of our kids’ meals. If parents don’t demand for better food, our children won’t get it.

What do you think about school lunches and “pink slime”? What do you want to see change about school lunches and nutrition in our school systems?

(Photo: Blisstree)