School lunches aren’t ‘food’

Volumes have been written about what is wrong with school lunches, but they rarely address the real problems because the writers are assuming the hamburgers, pork patties and chicken dishes are made with recognizable ingredients similar to what we would use in our own kitchens.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

The ingredients used in a typical school lunch program are a collection of unpronounceable chemicals substituted for real food because they are cheaper. Even school systems that boast of their enlightened approach to nutrition serve things that would shock most parents.

One school system’s barbecued pork rib patty contains four types of monosodium glutamate (MSG) and 12 sugars, including high fructose corn syrup, which has been linked to obesity. Its beef teriyaki nuggets have MSG, synthetic flavor and sodium benzoate (both linked to behavior and learning problems), eight sugars and salt. Even the humble hamburger has six MSG ingredients and two sugars.

Dishes that should be straightforward contain an astonishing list of foodless foods. The school’s cheese quesadilla should be made with a tortilla, meat and cheese. In reality, it boasts "cheddar-flavored mozzarella cheese substitute," "mozzarella cheese-type flavor" and "polydimethylsiloxane."

What are these chemical concoctions? And why should we expect children to eat something when we don’t even know what it is?

Much of what goes on that cafeteria tray can no longer be considered "food."

Dishes are selected because they appear to be cheaper, but they are grossly overpriced. Most of the cost goes for processing, packaging and profits. Many schools are finding they can provide real food for less costs by getting rid of the middle man. But the biggest extravagance is that these chemically-enhanced meals lead to students having difficulty behaving, focusing and learning. The same school system that feeds their students these MSG/sugar dishes spends the bulk of its budget on special education services. It typically costs twice as much to educate a child requiring special services as it does to provide a mainstream education.

The money saved by improving school food could buy a lot of real tortillas, meat and cheese. JANE HERSEY National director, Feingold Association of the United States Riverhead, N.Y.

Lice cover not nice

While I realize that the September 2005 cover of a child with lice falling out of his hair was intended to be a caricature, I found it to be in very poor taste. Despite the fact that lice affects all segments of the population and is in no way linked to hygiene, there is still a social stigma associated with it. Printing a picture that exaggerates the condition does nothing to help the feelings of those children dealing with the problem.

I expect better from Chicago Parent. ANN PUCCETTI Oak Park

More lice education

Thank you for Mia Tennenbaum’s humorous piece about lice (September 2005). I was pleased to see the issue of lice infestation treated with levity for a change and her encouragement to not panic. But some important points may not have gotten the attention they deserve.

Many of the anti-lice shampoos contain the pesticides lindane, malathion, and permethrin. These pesticides are neurotoxins and can cause seizures, memory impairment, irritability and aggression even when used as directed and are linked to cancer, asthma, and hormone disruption. They are most commonly applied to children, whose developing bodies put them at greater risk for the acute and long-term health effects of pesticide exposure.

The lice-killing sprays contain the same hazardous pesticides as the shampoos, have the same health concerns and are unnecessary since lice die within a few days once off a human host. Casual use of pesticides in this way only exacerbates the lice problem by allowing the bugs to build up resistance to the chemicals.

I encourage your readers to check out our Web site for more information about safe, effective treatments for lice, www.spcpweb.org. RUTH KERZEE Safter Pest Control Project Chicago

More help for single moms

I’ve been a single parent for almost two years. People at The Lilac Tree, a nonprofit Evanston-based group helping women going through a divorce, recommended your magazine as a resource. I’ve been a regular reader, but am surprised at the lack of attention given to working single mothers. Have you ever considered a monthly column devoted to single working moms? What about regular features? I guess I’ll have to continue searching on my own for another resource. JENNIFER ROSEN Skokie

Horrors of genital cutting

I’m writing in response to the letter from Erin Neese in the September 2005 issue. She asked what the difference is between the cultural norm in this country of male circumcision and the cultural norm in other countries of "genital cutting." The differences are huge.

1.) A man who is circumcised is a fully functioning human being with no lasting health consequences. A woman who has undergone the procedure faces long-lasting consequences. At best, the woman is unable to enjoy sex and may find it painful. Depending upon how much tissue is cut and how tightly she’s sewn back together, it can affect her ability to urinate and menstruate and makes childbirth more dangerous.

2.) Male circumcision in this country is done under sterile conditions. In Africa, that is often not the case. The infection and fever that follow these unsanitary procedures are considered part of the ritual. Many girls die.

3.) Jewish boys are circumcised at 8 days old. They forget that it happens by the time the incision has healed. Muslim boys are circumcised at 13 when they are mature enough to understand the reason for the procedure. Girls are often "circumcised" at 4 or 5, when they are old enough to remember it, but not old enough to understand it.

I have been to many brissim (Jewish circumcisions). The baby only cries for a few minutes. Those of us who believe that the Bible is the word of God will continue to circumcise our males as God commanded to Abraham. RACHEL LEBOWITZ Chicago

Let the boys decide

Thank you for publishing an article on circumcision (September 2005). Expectant parents thinking about this issue should know that the most important reason to refrain from having their newborn baby boys circumcised is pain.

Anyone who has seen circumcision performed knows the baby experiences pain during the procedure and until the wound heals. Since the American Academy of Pediatrics’ policy on circumcision states "...data are not sufficient to recommend routine neonatal circumcision," parents may want to ask themselves whether the decision to have elective surgery should be left to the person on whom the surgery is being performed. When their son is an adult he can make an informed decision about the risks/benefits of circumcision for himself, and if he chooses to have it done, will be psychologically prepared for the pain.

Many of us who are privileged to see every day the physical perfection of a newborn child await a more enlightened era when this bizarre and painful practice will be performed only as part of a religious rite. MARY WILLIAMS Chicago

Girls need mom, too

In Susy Schultz’ column in September 2005, I interpreted her to mean mothers of boys have more feelings of despair if they were to die and leave their sons motherless.

As a mother of two sons, ages 4 and 7, and one daughter, 6, I have to politely disagree. I worry about all three of my children and don’t feel their gender changes how they would feel if I were no longer living. I would want all three of them to be healthy, happy and self-sufficient, just as she wishes for her sons. If Schultz is so worried her sons would be helpless without her, might I suggest she take the kids into the laundry room and teach them to separate the whites from the colors. STEPHANIE ELLIOT Woodridge

Sling is the thing

I really liked the article "Growing Pains" (September 2005). A new mom myself, I was surprised at the backaches and wrist pain. I think you should have mentioned the benefit of a sling. It evenly distributes the weight, leaves a mom’s hands free and the baby snuggled inside. And you can use them long after the weight limit associated with baby carriers is reached. AMBER PLUA Oak Park

Labor Day saved

With two days to spare and no Labor Day weekend plans, I saw Tom Bradley’s article (September 2005) praising the Osthoff hotel in Elkhart Lake.

We got one of the last suites available and were pleasantly surprised at the nice accommodations. It was definitely a five-star hotel that was kid-friendly. And he was right, kids don’t need slide pools to have fun. My kids are 10 and 11 and we have stayed in our share of hotels and I have to say this was one of the nicest. Thanks to Tom’s well written article, we had a wonderful Labor Day. NANCY KRAUSE Wilmette

May story made summer fun

I thought it was a great idea to set goals for summer fun with the "spring tulips" project (May 2005). My children decorated their own tulips and each week they would play "pin the bug on the tulip." It was a great way to keep them active. At the end of the week, they would write down what they did and their memories from it. I will definitely do this wonderful project every summer. ALANA MCGOVERN Frankfort

Strawberry festival a bust

I am writing to you because of my great disappointment with the so-called "free" Long Grove Strawberry Festival. It was nothing like I had expected. My family learned nothing about strawberries, except that they’re here in the summertime. The children’s craft activities weren’t free. Pony rides: $3 each. My husband and I have five children. We were devastated.

Let’s not forget the food vendors: fried giant onion rings, BBQ pork, Chinese food and countless others. Was this the Strawberry Festival or the Taste of Long Grove? Yeah, we tasted the strawberry donuts and $4 smoothies. Please be more specific about free events in the future. Just because you can get in free should not give automatic permission for an event to call itself "free." LATASHA SANDOVAL Worth

Kids Eat Chicago

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