I lift and slide the desiccated mound of mashed potatoes over the plastic divider. The Salisbury steak is stringy and spongy; its gravy oily and fibrous. Every sense I have recoils and rejects that any of it is actual food. But it’s not the worst thing about this school lunch.
The ultimate lunch hour insult to our collective future—to our American public school children?
That’s the spork.
What a third grader is meant to do with a puck of Salisbury or chicken fried steak and a single plastic crossbreed of a spoon and fork, I don’t know. After months of eating with my mentees I learn how to wield the flimsy thing to stab-slice the meat into bite-sized pieces. I snap a lot of handles and break a lot of teeth in the process. The quality of the food appalls me, but the spork sparks a quiet rage.
This is how Nat copes in the face of a hunk of tough, sinewy meat and a spork: She stabs the meat, flips it upright, and takes a bite, corndog-style. Except it’s a bit unwieldy, so the food sometimes topples somewhere, at which point she spears it like a trout in a stream and tries again.
Our kids are gnawing meat off an improvised spear in our public schools. We should fix it.
We should fix it in part because when Natalie and I get comfortable enough for me to cut and mix up her lunch—anything to make it more appealing—she eats more. Much more. So it’s not just a matter of stopping the perpetuation of dreadful table manners. It’s a matter of guaranteeing better health and focus and educational outcomes—all things dependent on a well-nourished body and mind.
And by the way, I know we can’t lay out a lunch banquet complete with silver service and steak knives every day at primary school. But we can do better. For starters, let’s only serve them food they can consume easily and properly with the tools we furnish.
Then let’s bite off a bigger goal and get to work serving them food we ourselves could stand to eat.