Friday, January 19, 2007

Why Johnny Thinks Microwaving is Cooking

More on the theme of "why it's important to remember that reheating a pizza is not cooking":

...Cooper has certainly taken on a daunting task. She currently serves as nutrition director of the Berkeley Unified School System, a 16-school, 9,000-student outfit in California. When she took the job in 2005, she found that the district's food-service system had completely retreated from actual cooking. "When I arrived, 100 percent of the food arrived in plastic, was reheated in plastic, and served to the kids in plastic," she says.

Overcoming an absurdly stringent budget and severely limited cooking infrastructure within school cafeterias, she has already eliminated what she calls "plastic food" and is now serving fresh, made-from-scratch meals. But she has no intention of stopping there. She would like to overthrow the logic that has made school cafeterias conduits through which convenience-food manufacturers reach children's impressionable palates.


According to Cooper, it started during World War II, when military planners discovered that widespread malnutrition among the nation's youth was hampering their ability to fight effectively. In the initial post-war decades, the school-lunch program worked pretty well, Cooper says. "There were actually real people cooking food from scratch in every public school in the country," she adds. "And no one thought about charging -- meals were free for every kid."

But economic crisis in the mid-1970s galvanized the backlash against New Deal programs that continues to grip U.S. politics to this day. As kitchen equipment installed in the 1940s and 1950s began to decay, Congress didn't allot money to replace it. Skilled cooks -- the "lunch ladies" Cooper harks back to -- reached retirement age, and their jobs went unfilled. School kitchens gradually turned into reheating centers staffed by button-pushers, not cooks, and school districts began to outsource food preparation to a booming convenience-food industry, which was just then discovering the wonders of high-fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated fat....

"Meet the Lunch Lady" at

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