As a kid, I was once kicked out of school for the day because I wore a shirt disparaging school lunch. Admittedly, the shirt was gross. I believe it had a bright orange slogan reading “School Lunch Sucks” above a cartoon of a bug-eyed, doubled over, puking kid. Even then I was a critic.

Whatever “food” happened to hit my tray over the years of plodding, downtrodden, through school lunch lines, at least it was consistent. I’m certain the bulk was prepared from frost-covered bags of industrial frozen meat, or enormous, generically labeled tin cans of limp vegetables. As I grew older and was able to leave campus, I began to hit convenience stores for microwave burritos and bags of potato chips. Later, I’d drive to McDonalds or Subway.

During my last year of high school, it had become unnecessary for me to leave campus for fast food, because it had come to me. The lunchroom was slowly being populated by small kiosks selling lunch sized portions of things like Pizza Hut pizza. I didn’t need the convenience store either considering there was a snack machine packed with chips and candy bars in the hallway. Not to mention the ubiquitous Coke machine.

Initially, I thought these things were a kindness visited on me by gracious school administrators. I came to realize as an adult that there’s serious money to be had in allowing a corporation to infiltrate the halls and cafeteria of your school.

The Horrors of School Lunch and an Event to Help Change It! After the Jump!

As public school funding wanes, corporations have stepped in to fill the gap again and again. Of course, this isn’t altruism (as much as they’d love for you to believe that), it’s marketing. All kinds of companies have come to see schools as hothouses for potential customers and they’ve exploited cash starved schools in order to sneak in and promote brand recognition. It’s not just Coke machines in the halls (as diabetes linked to childhood obesity is set to be one of the biggest health crises this country has faced), it’s also corporate sponsored curricula. The companies create and distribute free branded learning materials to teachers; the teachers, grateful to have materials that will engage their students, use the materials and suggested curriculum to teach their subject.

The Center for Commercial-Free Public Education lists this starteling selection of corporate sponsored curriculum;

Nutrition curriculum by McDonald’s and potato chip companies

Teaching kids to count using Tootsie Rolls or Domino’s Pizza pepperoni wheels

Reading curriculum that teaches first graders to start out by recognizing logos from K-Mart, Pizza Hut, M&Ms, Jell-O, and Target

McDonald’s guides first graders through designing a McDonald’s restaurant, how a

McDonald’s works, and how to apply for a job at McDonald’s


Add to this school lunch contracts held by corporations like Hershey Foods and Morton’s, and the prevalence of obesity among children (more than three times the rate it was in the 1970’s when the Department of Agriculture loosened restrictions on fast foods in school lunches) becomes that much less mystifying.

Unfortunately, it’s not necessarily easy to reverse these trends. Fortunately, there are organizations that are working hard to turn things around.

Tomorrow night at 6pm, local non-profit Ecotrust is throwing an event at the Jupiter Hotel [800 E. Burnside] to benefit their Farm to School program, which seeks to connect schools with healthier, locally grown food, as well as increase healthy food consciousness by connecting teachers and students to local farms.

From their website:

We're thinking outside the school lunchbox by helping districts in our region source locally grown, processed, and manufactured products for the lunch line. We also conduct research of on-going programs, systemically track the growing "farm to school" market, and advocate for policy changes that support better school food and increased food literacy.

Indulge at the Jupiter is an awesome showcase of the best of Southeast Portland food and drink. A $30 ticket grants attendees access to taste offerings from the likes of Beaker and Flask, Laurelhurst Market (reviewed in tomorrows Mercury), Le Pigeon, Biwa, Bunk Sandwiches, Meat Cheese Bread, House Spirits, Artisan Spirits, New Deal Distillery and a host of others.

This is one of the best and most affordable food events of the year. It’s also for an excellent cause.

Maybe we can raise a generation of kids more connected to the dirt their food is grown in than that fucking hamburger-peddling clown. If that means I’ll have to pony-up $30 and get loaded on local spirits, so be it.

Tickets are on sale here.