You know all those old jokes about the “mystery meat” they used to serve in the school cafeteria? Here's a new punch line: kids actually like the stuff.
At least that seems to be the case in Fairfax County, Virginia where additive-filled burgers are back on the menu, with little explanation from school officials beyond saying they heard complaints from kids.
Pretty shocking considering Fairfax County is a high-toned, uber-educated suburb of Washington, D.C., where the median income is twice the national average and the concentration of type-A personalities is off the charts. Despite all of the good-food dogma that's likely preached to Fairfax kids, they just can't stop craving the taste of mystery-meat hamburgers.
Fairfax is home to Real Food for Kids, a kind of PTA for the CSA set, a local group with self-described national ambitions. In an age when nearly one in three kids are overweight or obese, the group’s goals are admirable (even if its members seem kind of annoying): To replace much of the, let’s face it, junk food that’s become standard in school cafeterias with fresher, healthier fare.
The group scored a major coup in spring 2012 when it convinced Fairfax County Public Schools to substitute all-beef patties for the Frankenburgers the district had previously been serving to kids. Those offending patties contained a whopping 27 separate ingredients (or more, depending on who you’re talking to), including the infamous “pink slime” that made headlines awhile back.
During that campaign, according to the Washington Post, the group’s president frequently pointed out that even McDonald’s burgers only consist of three ingredients: 100-percent beef, salt and black pepper.
Here’s how RFFK describes itself on its website: “We are parents. Concerned parents… Parents who know that simple, wholesome food is better for our children. Parents like you! We don’t need an advanced degree to understand this, but many of us have them. We are pediatric healthcare professionals, nutritionists, healthcare workers, certified wellness experts, educators, farmers, chefs, and business owners. Smart people that understand a simple fact: poor diets are causing serious illnesses and obesity in our children.”
It must have come as a shock, then, to such self-proclaimed “smart people” that their (no doubt) smart children appear to prefer the pink-slimed, 27-ingredient burgers. The old-fashioned (meaning additive-laden) burgers are back on the menu in Fairfax County, and district officials say the reason is simple: That’s what the kids wanted.
“[S]tudents are our customers and we listen to them and implement their requests if possible,” wrote Penny McConnell, the food and nutritional service director for the district, explaining the move to parents.
One school board member, who doesn’t appear to support the reversal, tells the Post that kids were squeamish because the all-beef patties looked pink in the middle—probably because among the numerous additives those patties lacked was artificial caramel coloring. As of yet, no one seems to be conjecturing that privileged kids slumming it with bad burgers might constitute some newfangled form of upper-middle-class rebellion.
Now, like a bad sequel, the Frankenburgers have risen from the dead, and although the district is assuring parents these do not contain pink slime, they do contain 26 separate ingredients, including a “tongue-twisting” litany of additives and preservatives as well as the aforementioned caramel coloring (so at least they appear well done).
You have to wonder whether the kids think any of this is such a big deal. After all, mom, the burgers come with a whole serving of vegetables—because ketchup still counts as a vegetable, right?