Martyr of Unholy Corn Dogs


Various corners of the food world, the parent world, and the public-health world have all been abuzz these last few years with the bad news about school lunches. As a food writer and a new mom, I've tracked the efforts of high-profile chefs trying to improve the situation. Alice Waters promotes gardens in the schools, Jamie Oliver works with British cafeteria staff, and Michael Pollan highlights the complex role of the government in school food programs. I admire their efforts so much that I have sometimes wondered: Is there anything particularly helpful that I can add to the debate? This week, I realized the best I can do is provide a bit of nail-biting terror. Or rather, a few links to what American children in the heartland are really eating at school.

Don't think there's anything to fear? Check out the menus. Mankato, Minnesota, is a large college town smack dab in the middle of some of America's most verdant pasturelands. There, children subsist on a diet of corn dogs and tater tots. Pierre, South Dakota, is the capitol of that great corn-belt state, and when kids there sit down to dine, they fuel their growing hearts and brains with pizza burgers and, yes, corn dogs. Dubuque, Iowa, sits between the Mississippi river and some of the richest farmland on God's green earth, and some days its children get to choose between two different brands of highly processed corporate pizza for lunch.

Monday through Friday, they're eating like this. Terrifying, no? Unfortunately, I could do this all day. Of course, not everyone in the Midwest eats corn dogs weekly. For instance, students at Minneapolis' exclusive Breck School (current high-school tuition, $21,000) can have all the steamed and roasted vegetables they want. Unfortunately, the Brecks are few and far between. Most young Americans live like the North American Martyrs—and no, I didn't make up that name. It's a Catholic school in Lincoln, Nebraska with a lunch menu that pretty much typifies what it means to be a schoolchild in America today.

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