Friday, March 28, 2008

More Fallout From the Beef Recall

Today I ran a cross a little more fallout from the Hallmark/Westland beef recall. When clearing the articles from my RSS news reader I came across this article, "School Districts That Got Recalled Beef Are Listed". As has been reported in various articles most of the meat that was recalled had already been consumed, but for good measure the USDA just released the schools that had received the recalled beef. As I scrolled through the list (you can take the time if you like) I saw a lot of school districts in Iowa listed. And, I thought ... "boy I am glad my mom, the teacher, takes a sack lunch to school!" Okay, that isn't exactly what I thought, but it did cross my mind.

Running across that list of schools who received the recalled beef really didn't mean much to me until I came across this article, "Food Program Brings Together Schools, Farmers," from a couple of days ago. Basically it tells about the "Farm to School Program" that helps connect local farmers with school districts in their area. Some farmers have formed co-ops to be able to supply the food that is needed while others have just expanded their operation or changed some of their focus.

I think this is a really cool program that probably deserves more publicity and even more adoption throughout the country. In fact it seems like a win - win. The farmers are able to sell their products locally so they don't have to deal with trucking or huge market swings and the students are able to eat fresh food instead of pre-packaged, pre-made, yuck! Of course it would take a change in the way school districts prepare their food, the article points this out also. This alone will probably keep many schools from jumping on board, but I think once people see it working in other places they may be more willing to try.

One thing did bother me though. According to the "Farm to School" website the State of Iowa only has 3 districts and 6 schools involved. I know that the Universities are involved and I was able to read about one school district on the website that is part of the program ... but, in the state of IOWA ... in the CORN BELT ... that is all we can come up with? I don't know where the disconnect is or why this isn't taking off in the state, but I plan on looking into it.

What better way to support our students and our farmers than by connecting them together. There is no reason for all of those districts listed on the USDA site to be buying beef from Hallmark/Westland (I know ... money is the issue) when Iowa can produce all the beef our school kids need. Of course there are many, many, many reasons that more schools aren't participating, and I know what many of the reasons are. But, that doesn't make it right.

Just something to think about on a Friday...


Dave_Flora said...

You know, having farmers serve their products to schools is a money issue (as you mentioned), but just as strongly, it is a convenience issue. As the density of McDonalds restaurants (are they even that?) show, people will accept mediocrity, even at elevated prices, if it is less work for them to prepare and present it. The desire to always be able to offer (something like) tomatoes...even in the dead of something that Americans are crazy about. We'll pay out the nose..just give us choice! Of course, it doesn't really matter, because we all choose the same thing...all of the time....
So really, the inconvenience of having to deal with a seasonal market means you have to be creative with food preparation, which means you can't hire people at basement-level salaries to prepare it...and so, slaughtering diseased meat to feed to children somehow becomes the sane choice.
School consolidation is really the big culprit here. The more anything starts to look like a factory, the less efficient and effective it is.
As these kinds of recalls increase (and they will), watch the more expensive schools. They will be the first to adopt a change away from industrial food.

Rich said...

"...and the students are able to eat fresh food instead of pre-packaged, pre-made, yuck! Of course it would take a change in the way school districts prepare their food,..."

The majority of people have began to believe that the meat and produce sold in stores, and served in their school cafeterias, fast food restaurants, and homes is what food is actually supposed to taste like.

If people think beef is actually supposed to taste like the beef patties fabricated from the meat of worn-out dairy cattle, would they object to the taste of a a properly finished (grass or grain) piece of beef?

I'm afraid that the cafeterias are just preparing and serving food that students will actually eat. Cheap, tasteless food is probably incompatible with higher quality production methods.

Ethan Book said...

Dave - I totally understand the convenience issue. Of course your comment could also be seen as a commentary on the state of the school system as much as a state of the school food system. But I agree with you.

I guess the question is why can't they do local. I understand what it would take to make the change and that it would be a HUGE deal. But, we need to start asking the questions ... why not? I really feel like Iowa should be leading the way in this because of our agricultural prominence, but I also understand why we would lag behind because of our agricultural prominence ... we are big time locked into the commodity world.

It's always good to question though...

Rich - I'm not sure if people would reject "real" tasting food. From my personal experience I can taste the difference and I can tell the "real" food is better because it has taste! Our taste buds aren't gone, we just haven't had to use them... maybe?

Mellifera said...

Oh sure, I bring up Farm-to-School and nobody cares, but Ethan puts up a post and everybody's aaall over it! ; )

I think the big thing about Farm-to-School is that many school kitchens aren't equipped to actually cook- they've only got the setup to reheat precooked food deliveries. So in order to get a Farm-to-School program going, you have to find the political willpower and the $$$ to renovate and man that kitchen... convince the cafeteria ladies you're not doing it out of personal dislike for them... answer questions as to why that money isn't being spent on academic programs ("because the USDA doesn't pay for textbooks, duh")... etc. You have to get the PTA behind it, and then some, before it will happen. Unfortunately most farmers don't seem to be up for the kind of massive effort this kind of marketing would take.

Usually when a farm-to-school program gets going, it's the parents... although a lot of the time, for whatever reason, some chef in town just woke up one morning and decided to get it going, and they seem to be pretty successful- so farmers, if you want to start a farm-school program, you may be well advised to find a chef as crazy as you are because they seem to be able to get the job done.

In every case I've seen, the farmers were sort of passive recipients of farm-to-school- you know, one day somebody asked them if they could grow salad greens, and they said ok. I think there's a lot of potential if farmers get behind it though. (Coca-Cola pushes their stuff into schools... why not farmers? At least we're selling veggies!) Just imagine what it could do for a local farming establishment if they had one large consistent market, and where it could go from there.

A farm-to-school lunch program also has a lot of educational potential- many of the schools have the kids take field trips to go out and work. Not to mention being able to have a built-in culinary arts program, real-world science class projects, etc.

JRG said...

In some places the farm-to-school program has been really successful. When it does happen, I observed it is usually a school board member or district board of education member who makes it happen. I remember attending a conference about 3-4 years ago where a woman who was on either the IL or Chicago B of E got onto the farm-to-program bandwagon and had farmers from all over Illinois supplying food to the Chicago school districts. I don't know where the program has gone since then, but I was very impressed with her enthusiam and commitment. She was an African-American from the inner city who never had anything to do with a farm before this program.

I think our best hopes are in people like this woman, not in Dept of Ag or farmers. I also remember her saying the IL D of A was the bigegst obstacle to actually getting IL farmers to provide food to IL schools. A true tragedy.

Keep fighting mellifera. That's how we make a difference.

Mellifera said...

Gosh, JRG, thanks. : )

It's absolutely true that it depends on an individual in the school district being very dedicated to it as a cause. It helps if that person is a member of the school board- although a bunch of parents can also be pretty persuasive! Farm-to-school programs go way beyond normal marketing. It's politics.

I definitely want to pursuit it once we're growing food. The interesting part is how that will pan out, seeing as how we'll probably be homeschooling (we'll need them for chores anyway... and I hated school anyway...). I can see people getting miffed about homeschoolers trying to "interfere" with their school system. So I'll probably just tell 'em, "If we liked the schools the way they were, we wouldn't try to change them!"

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