Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Yesterday's Lunch: Teryaki Chicken

By Ed Bruske
aka The Slow Cook

I hate to miss a school meal, especially the first one of the year when D.C. food service staff are pushing to make improvements. But I could not be in the cafeteria yesterday. I did, however, manage to find out what was in the teryaki chicken Chartwells served.

That would be the "fully cooked, coated" eight-piece, bone-in chicken from Tyson. According to the packing label, these are the ingredients, besides the chicken: Water, seasoning (salt, hydrolyzed corn protein, extrose, onion powder, autolyzed yeast extract, garlic powder, soybean oil, spice extract), sodium phophates.

And the chicken was "coated with": Water, coating (modified corn starch, tapioca dextrin, dried whey, soy protein isolate, sodium alginate, caramel (color), sodium tripolyphosphate, methylcellulose, guar gum).

The cooking instructions call for 10 to 15 minutes in a 375-degree convection oven from the frozen state.

Also on the menu was a "whole wheat roll," a "crunchy" spinach salad, "orange glazed" carrots and "locally grown" watermelon. Under the "Healthy School Act" passed earlier this year by the D.C. Council, the schools receive an extra five cents for every lunch that includes a locally grown component, meaning from within the Mid-Atlantic region.

The spinach, on the other hand, came from a place called The Salad Farm in Salinas, Calif. That business is actually a complex of growers and processors that harvest crops in both California and Arizona. The history, starting with a man named Lex Camany, who worked in lettuce fields to make money for college, is worth a read. At one point, Camany conducted agricultural research for the Mexican government. Then he started a strawberry department at Hartnell College.

So many American success stories touch the federal school meals program.

1 comment:

  1. You are right to be wary of big school food management companies like Chartwells. In my experience, there are three main ways that these companies seek to maximize profits:
    1) they may use non union workers, thereby saving a bundle on labor costs; sometimes they are even able to totally bust the union, displacing the former (unionized) cafeteria workers with their own lower-paid workers
    2) they may sell "competitive foods" (anything from sweetened iced tea to chips to cookies, plus alternative entrees) to those with money to pay for them, especially at the middle and high school level, effectively creating a two-tier lunchroom, where low income students on free/reduced lunch are limited to choosing the plat du jour, while their classmates with money to spend can choose from a veritable smorgasbord of snacks and other choices not available to those on subsidized meals, and
    3) they may deny a meal to a student who shows up in the lunch line not qualified for free/reduced, but without money to pay for their lunch. Some schools serve a child like this a "meal of shame" consisting of a cheese sandwich, or peanut butter and crackers; others just send them away hungry. While this policy undoubtedly makes financial sense, it is counterproductive to the core mission of the school, which is student learning, because hungry kids can't learn. Humiliating a child in front of classmates, either by taking away their food or substituting a clearly inferior meal, is no way to encourage high achievement either. When schools run their own food service in house, the admins in charge tend to acknowledge this reality; when food service is privatized, it can be a challenge getting the company to deal humanely with this issue, since they are not concerned with any other aspect of the student's school experience beyond the cafeteria.

    So, just my two cents, but you might want to be on the lookout for these kinds of practices, in addition to watching to see what the food itself looks and tastes like.