If I asked you what you had for lunch, you could probably tell me without hesitation. If I asked what your child had for lunch at school, could you answer just as easily? Even if you know the lunch menu, what’s actually in the food may be a mystery. A look at one school’s burger found it had 26 ingredients. Among those 26 components, it contained disodium inosinate, a flavor additive that can spike heart rate, and caramel color, which contains sulfites and ammonia. Labdoor Magazine explains “processing carbohydrates with ammonia under high temperatures can produce a toxic byproduct, 4-methylimidazole (4-MeI), that has been linked to convulsions and an increased incidence of cancer in animal testing.” These types of chemical compounds, and many others, are prevalent in the processed foods served at schools in these processed foods to avoid feeding your children.
The topic of school lunches is without a doubt a hot button issue for a number of reasons. It has become a political issue as of late, an ongoing issue of cost for public schools, but most importantly it is an issue which directly involves the well being of our children. This article isn’t to debate the free lunch program that provides meals to children who would otherwise have none. I think we are all in agreement that children should not go hungry. This is article is an in-depth look at the ingredients and chemicals in school lunches, and their effects on our children.
In 2010 the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act set out to better the health standards of food served in schools. Although it is an improvement, the system still has flaws. American lunches haven’t caught up to their European counterparts. France banned vending machines in schools in 2004. The European Union has also banned a number of chemicals in food which are still permitted for consumption in the US. These chemical ingredients were banned for their dangerous effects. For example, azodicarbonamide is banned in the UK, Europe, and Australia. Why? It can cause worsened allergy symptoms and can cause asthma is inhaled.
Even if actual fast food isn’t allowed in schools, that doesn’t mean the fast food companies aren’t infiltrating school grounds. Even Mamavation’s own founder discovered her son’s school was giving the students a coupon for a free McDonald’s breakfast. It’s a common practice. So common that companies spent $150 million marketing foods and beverages in elementary, middle, and high schools, according to stats from 2009.This predatory marketing has been shown to impact the choices children make when selecting food at school.
Here are 10 reasons you should avoid school lunches like the plague and opt for a wholesome packed lunch instead:
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1. Mystery Meat
You would expect the food your growing child is served at school to surpass fast food standards, right? Well it turns out the meat supplied to some schools would be turned down at fast food chains. The National Education Association points out “fast-food chains test their meat five to ten times more often than the USDA for bacteria and would reject meat that the USDA deems safe for consumption.” Speaking of rejected meat, a ground beef supplier had a salmonella outbreak and retailers recalled the meat. However, the schools were still shipped the ground beef produced at the facility during the time of the outbreak.
The ingredient lists and nutritional information for food served in school lunches can also be a mystery. The Better Government Association had to submit a request under the Freedom of Information Act to obtain the nutrition for the Chicago Public School’s chicken patty and other menu items. The chicken sandwich turned out to have dozens of ingredients including MSG, azodicarbonamide, and silicon dioxide (sand), among other things. MSG has been shown to cause allergic reactions, upset stomach, muscle tightness and fatigue.
When you buy meat for a packed lunch, you control what you buy and its quality. Choosing organic meats will ensure ensure your child isn’t being fed meat from animals given antibiotics, hormones, or GMO feed. Organic meats will also not contain chemical nitrates or nitrites, which are associated with increased risk for cancer.
2. GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms)
Schools aren’t just full of the ABCs. Toxic GMOs are everywhere when it comes to the foods served. The carton of low-fat milk is from cows fed GMO feed. The à la carte french fries are fried in GMO oil and the potatoes themselves could be GMO by next year. The “healthy” scoop of corn on the plate is the only food registered as a pesticide by the EPA. Most GM corn is modified to kill pests and does so by bursting the stomachs of bugs who feed on the corn, called Bt corn. Although humans are built differently than insects, this particular type of corn is likely to affect our bodies as well. The Bt toxin has been found in human blood suggesting that it is disrupting the bacteria in our digestive system and bodies. Bacteria is essential to our well being, and actually outnumbers the amount of human cells in our body. The human microbiome project is just now discovering the DNA of our bacteria and to what degree a disruption in the bacteria affects our bodies.
Glyphosate, the active ingredient in Round Up which is used on many GMO crops, has been linked to some scary side effects. In a 2009 article published by Toxicology, evidence suggested herbicides, like glyphosate, act as endocrine disruptors in human cells. Some endocrine disrupters can alter the functions of the hormonal system are linked to numerous types of cancer. Endocrine disrupting substances are not what we want to feed our children whose bodies and are still developing and whose hormones are vital in said development.
As a parent, you can ensure your children are not eating GMOs by packing a lunch with foods that are Non-GMO project verified or USDA certified organic.
3. Conventional Food
School lunches are made with conventional food, meaning not certified organic ingredients. Even seemingly healthier fruits and vegetables served up are cause for concern. Foods that are not organic are sprayed with persistent pesticides, which we pointed out as endocrine disrupters above. New studies also link endocrine disrupters in our environment to at least 5% of autism cases in Europe. One author of the study, professor Philippe Grandjean of Harvard University, calls for pregnant women and children to eat organic fruits and vegetables among other recommendations. This is due to the risks associated with phthalates found in pesticides and plastic containers. Exposure in utero can decrease a child’s IQ by as much as 6 points, which can be the difference between college or no college. Phthalates can also lead to adult obesity and is linked to asthma. If a toxin is deemed harmful to pregnant women, it is harmful enough for me to avoid exposing my family to it.
Although Non-GMO project verified foods are free from GMOs, they can still contain persistent pesticides, hormones, and antibiotics. Conventional dairy cows are often treated with hormones to boost milk productions. In addition, any meat that isn’t organic is also likely to be from animals injected with antibiotics. Livestock has been shown to gain more weight when frequently injected with antibiotics, and that produces more meat. It’s been common practice since the 1940s. This is problematic for humans to consume because the animals are treated with antibiotics. It can cause antibiotic resistant bacteria and actually make us less safe. In fact, the CDC reports that 23,000 people die each year from bacterial infections that are resistant to antibiotics.
By opting for certified organic food in your kids’ lunch, you ensure you are not feeding them GMOs, pesticides, animal products tainted with hormones or antibiotics, or artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives which can lead to allergic reactions and hyperactivity.