[Sorry about the confusion about the posts! I accidentally posted the text of one post under the heading of the other!]
The comments on last week’s post on some students protesting the new nutritious food guidelines for school lunches were quite lively. So I went back and tried to find some data to see if that might clarify the situation.
A fact sheet about the National School Lunch Program can be seen here. The average caloric intake for lunches under the old system was around 790 calories, so the new limit of 850 calories for grades 9-12 (700 for grades 6-8 and 650 for K-5) does not seem drastically different and are consistent with recommendations from other authoritative sources like the Mayo Clinic.
Of course, an average value means that there are some who eat way above that and it is those students who are likely to be the source of complaints that they remain hungry after the meal. Apparently high school football players can burn up to 3,000 calories per day. But as has been pointed out, students can have any number of extra helpings they want of fruits and vegetables.
What seems to be emerging is that some students simply do not like the new menu selection and are yearning for the old order. Via reader Jeff, I saw this interesting clip of chef Jamie Oliver showing elementary school children what ‘chicken nuggets’ are made of, to test if seeing with their own eyes the process by which chicken offal (which they found disgusting in its raw form) was mixed with fillers and then shaped into the familiar patties would get rid of their desire for it. You can see the outcome.
Oliver, who is from the UK, says that his experiment works well in other countries in turning children away from desiring chicken nuggets, but not in the US. So the problem may not be with the caloric limit. It may be that our food industry, with its pushing of highly salted, highly sweetened, artificially flavored and colored foods has really done a number on our idea of what constitutes tasty food so that children have learned to dislike real food and crave ersatz substitutes.
As an aside, I grew up in Sri Lanka eating ‘real’ food (by which I mean home-cooked food that used unprocessed raw materials and ingredients) because the processed food industry had not penetrated there at that time, though that is changing. When I first came to the US, I ate a lot of fast food because not only was it cheap (an important factor for a poor graduate student) but I also found it to be very tasty. But after some time, I could not eat it anymore because it would actually make me feel a little sick. That is true to this day. It seemed like my body was telling me that I had reached my quota of junk food and should give it up. Now I never eat at such places unless there is really no choice, like when I stop at highway rest areas. But even then, I try to eat the items that are the least processed. Of course, it undoubtedly helps that I can now afford to eat better.
There is no question that that high-caloric fast food fills you up for fairly low cost, and the artificial flavorings with which they are laced can make it highly appetizing for those whose bodies don’t react negatively to it. If people grow up on it, maybe they have the opposite reaction to what I had, in that it is real food that becomes unappetizing and hard to eat, and that this is what is driving the student protests.
We should also be careful that these kinds of media-savvy protests are usually driven by the most vocal and dissatisfied people and we should wait for more dispassionate surveys to see how most students feel about the new school menus. It will be interesting to see if tastes change as younger children grow up with the new school menus or whether the stuff they eat elsewhere will continue to drive their tastes. It makes me wonder if there a food version of Gresham’s law in which bad food drives out the good.