Personally

The past six months have been pretty tough with cancer diagnoses in two relatives and two family friends. I can assure you that it wasn’t massive cupcake binges that caused cancer in these healthy, terrific people. In fact, I would say that they eat very well and exercise frequently.

In today’s previous post, I was trying to say something in way that offended some. I apologize if it was taken as “inflammatory” or “irresponsible.” That was certainly not the intent. Something just seems odd to me with the idea selling cupcakes for cancer research. I can see selling fruit or veggies for cancer research. What if it was another less healthy food? Donuts for cancer research? I couldn’t plop money down for that. I’d prefer to donate directly to the organization. I can’t change that opinion of mine, but in the future I’ll try to tone it down so that it doesn’t make you cringe when you read something I write. I promise never to joke about cancer again.

I find myself getting into tangles when I state opinions and I’m sure other bloggers get into trouble too. That’s probably why many blogs rarely stray into controversial territory preferring to remain firmly in the vanilla. But everything you see on a blog is somebody’s viewpoint, somebody’s journal entries, somebody’s private thoughts. The good, the bad, the ugly.

A few months ago a reader named Sill left me the most profound comment.
I immortalized it on a post-it note on my computer
I need to review that every now and then. When the post-it note fails, I go do dishes and look up to see this:
That works great!
The funniest thing about today’s little comment o’mine? I like cupcakes! I thought the blog post’s other content was more provocative.

(By the way, I just bought this book Cake Pops. I couldn’t resist and they can be made gluten-free. I was going to give the book as a gift, but I can’t part with it.)

The book is so pretty
You need to know that although I love cupcakes, cookies are my real downfall. I can eat a package in 24-48 hours. Will I get cancer from frequent binges on processed cookies? Who knows!? The vast majority of people I know who are currently battling cancer or who are cancer survivors got cancer out of the blue. Cancer is a terrible thing.

So I’ll work harder not to go overboard with dramatic comments, but can you meet me halfway? If I bother you, please stop reading. If I bother you and you continue to read what I write, don’t take things personally. It’s only a blog.

Banning bake sales

I was driving to work and listening to the radio 10 days ago. It was the “Holiday Lite” station. (I’ve had to ease up on the audiobooks, which have always been the standard during my commute, and go back to music ever since I started listening to Omnivore’s Dilemma. For a few weeks I felt down when I arrived at school and then later I felt deflated when getting home. I decided to stop listening to that audiobook and tried the radio again. I have felt a lot happier. I don’t know if I’m going to be able to finish listening to Michael Pollan’s book actually… It’s a terrific book, but heavy.)

This particular holiday station has commentary in the mornings, which bugs me (I expect all holiday music, all the time). Usually I go back and forth between a few music channels to avoid announcers’ voices.

But I happened to catch the beginning of a new topic (I don’t remember exactly what they said, but I’ll paraphrase it so you can get the gist):

DJ: “So they want to ban bake sales at school because they think bake sales are making kids fat.”
Then the DJ starts taking callers.
Caller 1: “I don’t think they should ban bake sales because we raise money for good causes…”

Caller 2: “I don’t think we should ban bake sales. In fact, there’s a bake sale at my son’s school today. I baked 24 cupcakes for the sale.”
DJ stirs it up, “How great! What is bake sale for?”
Caller 2: “Cancer research.”

(Silly off-hand side comment: Does anyone else find it ironic that the bake sale is for cancer research? Wouldn’t eating too many cupcakes (aka sugar) lead to cancer? I’m not against the occasional cupcake. In fact, after I took my son to the doctor last week, we went out for gluten-free, dairy-free chocolate orange cupcakes as a special treat. They were fantastic. All I’m saying is that I might have trouble buying a cupcake in the name of cancer research. I’d buy fruit or veggies in the name of cancer research in a heart beat!)

I was ready to call the radio station myself, but by the time the segment ended I was practically at work. I thought about emailing later in the day, but as you can imagine, my schedule is pretty full.

Here’s what the USDA Secretary Vilsack said, “banning bake sales is not the intent of the USDA.” Here’s what the new law does:

Section 208 of S. 3307, the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, grants USDA the ability to set nutrition standards for all foods served at schools during the school day, including in vending machines, snack bars, and other “similar venues.”

Why should the USDA have some oversight of the school food environment? Read on…

The other morning I was leaving the main office. Two girls left after me. They were holding 10 chocolate bars in their hands. In the office on the counter a secretary is selling chocolate bars for a dollar for a fundraiser. I don’t where the money is going, but it’s not going to our school.

I saw the girls with the bars and I decided I had to know why they had so many chocolate bars. They were having trouble carrying them. “Why are you buying chocolate bars this morning?” I asked.

The girls looked at each other, paused, and then answered, “Because our teacher lets us buy them for lunch.”

Mrs. Q: “Are they all for you?”
One girl: “Us and the other kids.”

Mrs. Q: “Are you going to eat your regular school lunch?!”
The girls shrugged and successfully scurried away. I slammed my palm on my forehead.

It’s obvious that they would rather eat chocolate bars at lunch than anything else. Wouldn’t we all? I would prefer the kids eat the regular school lunch over eating one chocolate bar. I’m pretty surprised that the teacher let them do that considering we all know how little time the kids have to eat. If they eat that chocolate first, then there’s no time for anything else.

For the record, my school doesn’t do bake sales because the PTA is very small and the community surrounding the school is food insecure. Actually it’s remarkable that the kids had a buck in their pockets to pay for the chocolate bar.

What are your thoughts on school fundraisers using food?
Shouldn’t fundraisers inside the school benefit the school itself, a student group, or the PTA?

Further reading: Culture Wars: How Junk Food and Obesity Became Politicized

Open thread: Bedtime snacks

I’ve been on a popcorn binge. I’ve always been a big fan of popcorn ever since I was a little girl and I would eat it whenever I watched tennis with my grandmother. We would sit on her fuzzy brown couch in the den and watch Navratilova or McEnroe.

This week while writing the posts and then relaxing afterwards, I’ve been eating popcorn that I popped on the stove. I did exactly what Laura did in this blog post: How to pop popcorn on the stove. I certainly knew how to pop popcorn on the stove, but I hadn’t done it in a long time. When I read her blog post, I had to make popcorn right away. I’m using avocado oil like she did too. Amazing delicious snack.

My little boy usually doesn’t want to eat anything before bed. He might request a little drink of (goat) milk, but usually he wants a swig or two of water.

What are your favorite bedtime snacks? Do your kids eat anything before bed?

Day 162: pizza and this one is dedicated to the lunch ladies

Today’s menu: pizza, salad, fruit cup

The last lunch. I never thought I’d make it this far. I was convinced even to the very last lunch that I would get found out. How is is possible that no one discovered me? I’m searching for an answer.

Months and months ago, back in March, I chatted with my mother about the blog project. I refer to my mother and my husband as my “handlers.” They help me manage everything and make decisions. I could not have done it without them. Where I’m jumpy and anxious, they are level-headed and laid back. Boy, do I have a great support system.

I asked my mom, “What do I do if one of the lunch ladies asks if I’m Mrs. Q? I can’t lie.” My mom confirmed, “You have to say that yes, you are Mrs. Q.” She went on, “But if they bring up Mrs. Q in a discussion with you, you don’t have to say anything. You could say, ‘I don’t know how she finds the time.'” Touché!

For weeks I entered the cafeteria mentally prepared for a conversation. Not once did anyone ever bring up Mrs. Q or ask me any questions at all. Granted, they are busy people and so am I. We did have various conversations though. On one occasion I brought up Jamie Oliver and asked them if anyone was planning to watch his show Food Revolution last spring. It was before the show aired and a few women said they were interested. And then we got on with our day and no one brought it up again.

a cheese and sausage close up

I think another reason that no one asked me even if they had been aware of the show is that I am a nice person. I have a good reputation. I like chatting with people and getting to know them. I value the work the lunch ladies do for my students, our students. They don’t get a lot of credit in my school, but they should. No staff member touches the lives of basically every student in the school every single day like the lunchroom staff. In discussions I have had with them, I know they care deeply about the students and their welfare. I sincerely hope that when this comes out one day that they don’t think that my interest in them was not genuine. In fact, each conversation I had with them added depth and meaning to my life, my work, and this blog project. 

I’d also like to make it clear that this project was never about “slamming” one school food company, one school district, or one school. The meals I ate were identical to meals eaten by kids all over this country every day in a school in your neighborhood. This was a campaign to raise awareness. It was a way for me to share my unique viewpoint with parents, a perspective that most parents never get to see even though they are provided with menus.

Not sure why it needs yellow #5 and #6…
it looks like normal dressing, but there is a heck of a lot of ingredients
I drank my last fruit cup. I ate my last salad. Do I feel sad? Well, no. I am a little weepy with relief though. Like so many aspects of this project, I’m still processing what happened.
My sister texted me yesterday after the msn.com exposure, “omgggggg you are amazing!!!!!!!” I adore my sister and she made me smile, but that’s the kind of thing that makes me uncomfortable. Do I feel proud of myself? Hmm, not really. I’m just a regular person, regular job, regular life. 
But a year ago my gut, a little voice, said, “Psst, you there. You with the idea of eating school lunch? You should go for it. No seriously. You might be onto something. You should do it.”
I can’t believe I listened.
For the past twelve months, I have been eating school lunch alone in my room, I have been photographing using a cell phone camera, I have blogging, I have been tweeting…all the while sending furtive messages back in time to last year in December and to the old me, begging myself, “Please do it. Please, please act on that crazy impulse.” (If you ever needed a reminder to listen to your gut, this is it)
Because I just might have done something to help my students. I just might have helped my family view food in a whole new way. I just might have changed my life.
The last lunch garbage!
I remain truly grateful to all of you for creating a community around this blog. Let’s continue this conversation next year. In celebration of what we have done, I’ve gone ahead and created a facebook account for the blog (I’m going to disband the ning account as it has peetered out. Since we’re all on facebook, it makes more sense). Please “like” it when you get the chance!

AND I made you another brief and ridiculous little video. It’s jiggly, because I am trying not to show you the rest of my desk…

STICK A SPORK IN ME — I’M DONE!!!!!!!!!!!

Day 161: creamy pasta and a video blog for you

Today’s menu: creamy bow tie pasta, green beans, pear, bread, butter, cookie

That was actually really good. Tasty even. A new menu item, well, that’s pretty rare. I wonder why they decided to debut it so late in the year — bring it back next year, it was good.

The pear was an amazing color. Would a pear aficionado happen to know what kind of pear that is? It was delicious. The beans were “eh,” but I was distracted by the pasta. I kept staring at it…

chicken, pasta, sun-dried tomatoes…

Sun-dried tomatoes? Am I dreaming?

My taste buds, now a jaded, suspicious bunch, told me they were indeed “sun-dried.” I don’t know if that was perception or reality. I tend to believe them, mostly because I don’t have any other data points.

I ate the top off the tree and enjoyed butter on my bread

The cookie was not good. It was pure sugar with funny tasting green stuff. Some say that synthetic food dyes have a taste. All I can say was that it was an odd bite of overly sweet stuff. But like I said before, my taste buds don’t know which end is up. The kids loved the green cookies. But the other green item (the green beans)? Not so much.

I’m eating gluten-free, dairy-free at home outside of school lunch. It sounds restrictive, but it’s mostly a whole food diet. With my husband on an Indian food kick, we are eating really well. My husband, who was only able to boil water and fry an egg, decided within the past month and a half that he wanted to learn how to cook his favorite cuisine: Indian. Last night we had Daal that was terrific. Going from Daal made with cardamon pods, cinnamon sticks, and turmeric one day to a fluorescent green cookie the next is dietary whiplash!

***

Hello to everyone who came to visit via the beautiful article written by Rebecca Dube that was featured on todayshow.com and then got picked up on msn.com‘s home page. I’m feeling shy again. Anyway, I had a really fantastic conversation with Rebecca about the blog one night this past week. It was like chatting with a friend; I was actually lying on my dog-chewed couch just like I do when I call up my sister. Rebecca wrote such a nice article. Go ahead and check it out.

***

Lastly, I made something for you. I video-blogged my lunch today. I don’t say anything in this silly, short video but at least I waved!

You can see how wimpy the spork is!

Day 160: hamburger and other tidbits

Today’s menu: hamburger, whole wheat buns, potato wedges, apple and a lot of ketchup

When the plastic came off over the burger compartment, there was this aroma. It was the smell of processed meat. I turned away and told myself, “Just a few more days.” To choke it down, I had to use a lot of ketchup packets on the burger. Thankfully it tasted better than it smelled.

To get that far, I used up 3 1/2 ketchup packets

I was excited to see potato wedges again (one of the new offerings this fall), but overall the potatoes were bland. I tried to eat them without ketchup but they were too dry.

I know someone who is from Poland. She is younger than me, but moved here as a young adult. One time we were talking food and she told me that she couldn’t eat American potatoes for two years after coming here. Her mother kept a vegetable garden in Poland and her mother’s potatoes tasted far superior to anything she could find in American supermarkets. She says that now that she has adjusted she can eat American potatoes just fine. Man, I’d really love to try a Polish potato!

Yes Virginia, potatoes really do have skins!

I feel like I’m breaking out of prison on Friday. Having to eat school lunch has almost been harder psychologically than physically though it has been tough in every way. I’ve blogged about how weird it is to have no control over what I eat for lunch and how that has done a number on me. Also lunch time has been stressful every school day 2010. The secrecy has been challenging, the worrying about being discovered. I just want to have a normal lunch break again!

Ketchup got everywhere
What’s the magic number? It looks like it will be 162 total school lunches eaten in 2010. It won’t be the length of the typical school year in the United States: 180 days. My district offers 170 days of instruction per school year, which would be days that school lunch is served. I worked other days that there were no students and of course no school lunch (professional development and report card days).
I ate school lunch every day that it was served and that I was in the school building. It doesn’t add up to 170 days because I took some days off. The first half of the project, from January to June, I took five days off. Those included both when my son had surgery (ear tubes) and then later my mother had some minor surgery (I didn’t blog about any of that at the time). The other days were due to my own illness or that of my son. This fall I only took off three instructional days, which were days that I was giving speeches about the project. That I haven’t had to take time off for illness is kind of remarkable.
My son has been less sick this fall, but this week he has been really ill with a bad cough. None of us are sleeping terribly well. Every time the little guy has been sick, my husband takes a day to be with him. Next year I’m going to return the favor.
That leads into my next point: buying school lunch next year. A reader wondered why I would ever buy school lunch to not eat it (and how wasteful that would be). I agree. The last thing on earth that I want to do is buy school lunch ever again. I have eaten my fill…for the rest of my life. But many of you have said “I’m going to miss your lunch posts” (you guys are sweet!) and one person even asked, “Why can’t you just continue eating school lunch for the rest of the year?” (I must remind you that I set out to do this for a calendar year, not a school year)
Knowing that you enjoy the school lunch photos, in yesterday’s blog post I offered you a consolation prize by saying I might buy lunch again but not eat it and only if it was a new menu item. The truth is that I think you have seen everything the cafeteria puts out at lunch and I’m not sure I can even buy it again in 2011…
The reason? I can’t eat it anymore! It’s not just food. If there is one thing that I’d like you to take away from this blog that is that food is not just something we ingest to fill up our tummies. Food is something magical.
When I think about my bloodstream, my heart, my brain…they are all created with molecules from the school lunches I have eaten all year long. Shooting through my veins right now are molecules of beef that was treated with antibiotics (29 million pounds of antibiotics was fed to animals in 2009), apples with pesticide residue, vegetables including potatoes grown with chemical fertilizer, whole wheat buns that might not be as healthy as I thought, high fructose corn syrup in the ketchup, and maybe a dye or two. I don’t know all the specific ingredients that are in the school lunches, but now they are now my body’s ingredients, my fuel, my problem.
I’m getting super dramatic here, but I have learned this year that food is more important to me than I ever imagined. I’m forever indebted to myself for acting on this crazy idea in the first place. I like my new relationship with food. It’s far more healthy!
***
Check out this video with Elmo and Mr. Sam Kass, Head Chef at the White House. It’s cheesy, but now I want a burrito!

Day 159: chicken nuggets and the giveaway winners

Today’s menu: chicken nuggets, broccoli, fruit cup, bread and butter

I never thought I’d feel relieved to see chicken nuggets on the tray, but after yesterday’s lunch I felt almost happy.

They didn’t taste half-bad, but I did a double take. I couldn’t remember if before I’d had four and now it was three. Looking back I guess it was three chicken “fingers” before.

I chatted with some students about yesterday’s lunch. One boy told me that he loved the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and that he ate both of them. Another boy (not the same boy who told me he ate all those cookies) told me that some of his friends did not want to eat the sandwiches and so they gave the sandwiches to him. I asked him how many he ended up eating and he said, “Six.” If they are about 300 calories each, then he ate 1,800 calories. Wow.

It snowed!

I used to love bread and butter. I still think of it as a comfort food. It tastes pretty good. But I’m going to go on an elimination diet after the project is over. I want to eat a plain diet for a month and give my body a real break. My body is unhappy and it is making its opinion known to me. I just want to be normal again.

garbagio

I’m almost done eating school lunch, but I’m going to continue blogging. Topics I’m working on:

1) Breakfast at school
2) Student’s behavior in the cafeteria
3) Product reviews for lunch-related products and educational materials (contact me if you sell a product you would like me to review)
4) Commentary on food products and food advertising (like this summer)
5) What I’m eating instead of school lunch (“soup up my lunch” like this summer)
6) Weird things I witness at school (I have a doozy to share with you…next week)
7) More guest bloggers (if you have been a guest blogger and want to submit a new idea or follow-up post, email me)
8) Blog and Twitter parties
9) And even the occasional school lunch; however, I won’t be eating it, just buying it. But it would have to be an exceptional offering or a new menu item because haven’t y’all seen everything?
10) What do you want me to blog about?

By the way, there is a plan for revealing myself, but I haven’t revealed it 🙂 You’re going to have to be even more patient than you have already been. All I can say is that it’s in the works.

***

And now for the WINNERS of last week’s Eat Along Challenge

1. Day one prize: The Built NY Lunch sack in red

WINNER: Bebe Meals (Commenter number 5)

WINNER: Organic Family on a Budget (Commenter number 3)

WINNER: Bento for me (Commenter number 3 — I feel like this is a bit of weak title so I’ll send you a surprise bonus!)

5. Day five prize: Chefs $25 giftcard
WINNER: Mindboggling things and musings thereabouts (commenter number 4)

Please email me if you are a winner!

Day 158: peanut butter & jelly "sandwich" !!

Today’s menu: peanut butter and jelly sandwich, juice, fruit cup

Oh

My

God!

It’s baaaack!! I guess the universe decided to stick it to me one last time before 2010 ended. How appropriate that I’m eating this meal on the day that President Obama signed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act (Child Nutrition Act) into law! You can read all about it here and read the transcript too. Yippee!!

I felt physical nausea when I saw the packaging. If you have been reading since the beginning, you know that the first time I ate the sandwich, I came home and threw up. Handing over money for today’s lunch was hard.

Interestingly, I noticed that the packaging has completely changed since when I ate the sandwiches last year (twice). Last time it listed a brand name and the calories. Stupidly I didn’t take a picture of the nutritional information earlier this year. You’ll notice that today’s version doesn’t say anything. They scrubbed the packaging of any vital information. I wonder.. Is it because of my blog?

See? We do need the Child Nutrition Act!

The good news: it tasted better than any of the “sandwiches” I ate last year and it seemed thinner. So they may have redesigned the food and the packaging. Before the graham cracker was limp and crumbled when I tore into it. This time I have to say that there was a crunch! Little improvements, right? (Having two fruits in one lunch still meets the USDA guidelines, by the way.)

I ate half of the sandwich. I couldn’t physically eat anymore.

But.

I had another sandwich left.

So.

I quietly slipped it into my purse. I had to show my husband what the kids and I had for lunch.

The sandwich on my dirty counter next to the watering can

While I was making dinner (broiled mackerel, red quinoa, edamame), I tossed the sandwich non-chalantly onto the counter, exclaiming, “Here’s what I had for lunch!”

He was throwing something into the trash and turned. His reaction was immediate, “EWWWWW!!!”

He continued, “That looks like what I ate when I was in the Grand Canyon!” (Background: one spring break, he and his roommates drove to the Grand Canyon, hiked in and out, ate MREs)

Pensive he restated it, “No, that’s astronaut food!”

The sandwich is thinking, “This is not what I bargained for.”

I don’t know what to label this thing but it’s not a sandwich. Since I was at home and wasn’t constrained by lunch times or secrecy, my husband and I took our time dissecting our specimen (after our son went to sleep of course).

My husband opening the wrapper for inspection

My husband then declared, “I’m going to eat some and we’ll compare our thoughts about what it tastes like.” That sounded good because I’m a one-woman show and rarely get to compare notes with anyone.

His first couple bites

He said, “I’m disappointed at the lack of jelly. It’s all peanut butter. There is no way this is a ‘sandwich.’ It’s a peanut butter cracker.”

He pulled it apart and started peeling the layers of peanut butter down
The tiniest amount of jelly I have ever seen
We discovered that the peanut butter was layered on there with the teeniest dribble of jelly.
He smiles at me, “I’m going to eat the whole thing.”
I stare at him, “No, honey, please don’t.” I start jumping up and down because I know Mr. Q is a determined man and is totally not lying.
“No, No!! Remember how I got sick when I ate this before? Plus it’s been in my purse for more than eight hours!”
He replies, “This is fun and I don’t mind eating it.”
“Please don’t, you’re sick,” which is true as he is having an asthma flare-up. Meanwhile during our fun dissection, our massive black Lab has been patiently sitting, watching us and drooling.
“Ok, I’ll feed the rest of it to the dog so it’s not wasted.” (Ironic that he’s concerned about waste considering how many of theses the kids throw out)
Our dog gobbled it down, licking his chops!
No, this is not the golden ticket!
 

A couple random tidbits about these sandwiches: When I first posted that I ate them for lunch last year, some people inquired as to where they could buy them as they ate them at school as kids and were nostalgic for them. I was floored! Also, this summer a mom emailed me to say that she took her daughter to some kind of summer school program (out east, I think NY) and much to her shock these exact sandwiches were served. So they must not be completely regional. I had never encountered them until this year.