Thursday, August 26, 2010

What's in This Burger?

By Ed Bruske
aka The Slow Cook

Under the "Healthy Schools Act" passed by the D.C. Council earlier this year food service must post the ingredients "for each menu item" in a place where the public can see them.

When I asked a spokeswoman for the schools on Tuesday where I could find this information, she sent me a link [PDF]that took me to a site that lists nutritional information for some menu options, but no ingredients. I asked again about the ingredients, and am waiting to hear back.

D.C. schools are also supposed to tell where produce served in the meals originates, and that information is available on the link provided above.

As you can see from this photo, some things never change. The burger and bun are still highly processed, manufactured in distant factories and shipped to schools frozen to be re-heated. Ditto for the potatoes. Even though this tray looks a bit dreary, however, the sliced cucumbers and tomatoes are something new and fresh, as is the cantaloupe from Arnold Farms in Chestertown, Md. It arrived whole at my daughters school and one of the cooks removed the rind and seeds and cut it into these bite-size pieces. It doesn't get much fresher or more local than that. (And the fact that it's local entitles the school meal program to a five-cent bonus from the city.)

Another thoughtful touch is this "homemade" dressing. Chartwells bills it as a "Greek herb mayo." That translates as mayonnaise with some dried oregano and vinegar stirred in by our own school kitchen. That's quite a departure from the prepared Kraft dressings previously served with mile-long ingredient lists of preservatives and industrial additives.

In case you were wondering, the "whole grain" hamburger bun comes from Bake Crafters Food Company in Collegedale, Tenn. The ingredients listed on the shipping package are these:

"Water, whole wheat flour, unbleached unbromated enriched wheat flour (wheat flour, malted barley flour, niacin, ferrous sulfate, thiamine mononitrate, riboflavin, folice acid), sugar, wheat gluten, contains 2% or less of: yeast, salt, soybean oil, hydrated monoglycerides, wheat lactylate (CSL), calcium propionate (for freshness), calcium stearoyl, ammonium sulfate, enzymes, ascorbic acid (dough conditioner), azodicarbidamide (ADA), L-cysteine hydrochloride, calcium peroxide."

The "fully cooked char-broiled hamburger patty" comes from Don Lee Farms in Inglewood Calif. It lists the ingredients as these:

"Ground beef (not more than 20% fat), seasoning (salt, hydrolyzed soy protein (caramel color), dehydrated onion and garlic, maltodextrin, spice, sugar, torula yeast, autolyzed yeast extract, disodium inosinate, natural flavoring)." It may contain soy, and contains "commodities donated by the United States Deparment of Agriculture."

Cooking instructions are 12-15 minutes from the frozen state in a 350-degree convection oven.

Now, try to imagine listings like this for every menu item the schools serve for the entire year.

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