Friday, April 16, 2010

I think it’s a requirement for all Seattle Public Schools to go on a field trip to the Pike Place Market in 4th grade. I went with my 4th grade class twenty years ago, and a few weeks ago my friend accompanied her 4th grader to the market. The girls all got those spiral beaded thingies you twist around your hair so it looks like some fancy braid you got on the beach in Mexico. I’m pretty sure I had one twenty years ago, too.

All this talk about Jamie Oliver and his food revolution in schools has made me think about my own school lunches. Chicken fingers. Tater tots. Salisbury steak. I loved Salisbury steak. It came with mashed potatoes. I’m Chinese. We never ate things like that. I was in my teens before it occurred to me what made a grilled cheese sandwich extra tasty was frying it up in some butter instead of just sticking two pieces of bread and a slice of cheese in the toaster oven, and that white bread - which I never bought - was more delicious than wheat. And I always looked forward to chimichanga day. I kind of even liked the pizza.

School food has been terrible since there have been school cafeterias, with the exception of certain countries that prize food above economy (France comes to mind). I do remember an essay in Gourmet magazine called "In Praise of Boarding-School Fare" or something, but it was about life at Miss Porter's School in the 1950's and the standards that apply to an expensive girls' finishing/boarding school don't align with the public school system's. But somewhere along the way we lost the ability to feed ourselves.

It is easy to point fingers at the school system. But they are only part of a larger problem. When you come from an upper-middle-class household (as I did), the crap you eat in the school cafeteria (which was very foreign and exciting to someone who ate Chinese food 24/7; I was 24 before I owned a potato masher) is balanced out by the food you eat at home. I had parents who cared about food, and could afford to do so. What do you do if the best meal you have all day is the one you get at school? If your parents don’t care, or can’t afford, or don’t have time to cook at home? Teaching children is one thing - they are a captive audience, and you hope that at least something you throw at them will stick. But how do you educate people on how to feed their own kids? How do you teach them to care?

(Photo above taken at the Pike Place Market, Seattle, February 20, 2010).