'Green' food at school could be good or bad

Kristin Zuhone, 18, of New Jersey spoons some Curried Red Bean salad onto her plate of vegetables.

Can't let School Lunch Week pass without noting a couple of very relevant trend stories from this week's Daily News. What kids eat, or don't eat, in school lunches is a topic that's gotten hotter than ever, and it's closely tied in with the Earth to Philly beat - or is that "beet?"

It's pretty universally accepted that school lunches need to be reformed, though exactly how is where the debate lies. Even the most basic propositions are up for grabs: Most people agree that boosting the presence of fresh fruits and vegetables and dialing down on the saturated-fat-heavy meat and dairy is a good idea, but unsurprisingly, the meat and dairy people beg to differ.

Various approaches to the problem from different quarters have yielded some creative solutions. A Philly-based team of producers has created a star-studded music & spoken-word CD, Healthy Food For Thought (disclosure: I contributed a poem that is read by Sara Hickman on one track), with all proceeds going to the New York Coalition For Healthy School Food, an organization that works diligently to help schools serve better, more healthful snacks and lunches. The NY team looks to fund efforts toward local and organic lunches, farm-to-school programs, school gardens and comprehensive nutrition policies. I would suggest this might be worth pursuing here in Philly, but doubtlessly someone somewhere will object to even these common-sense initiatives.

What everyone can agree is that all the food should be as fresh as possible, in sanitary conditions. As it turns out, most school cafeterias in Philly wind up not meeting that standard:

WOULD YOU EAT at a restaurant where rodent feces dot the area where your food is being cooked? How about a place where employees preparing your meal don't wash their hands or wear gloves? Better yet, a place where there's black mold in your ice? Not too appetizing, is it?

But if your child is in school in Philadelphia, chances are she or he is eating every day in a lunchroom with similarly unsavory conditions.

Thankfully, as schoolchildren reach college age they get to make more of their own choices about what to eat, and our Features story from yesterday reveals that more and more of them are choosing vegetarian and vegan options. It could be a matter of taste or ethics, but our reporting suggests it's more of a green angle - an awareness of the ever-more-emphatic scientific evidence of meat's role in global warming. It's a role, by the way, that such touchy-feely developments as "grass-fed beef" will not eradicate, as About.com explains here.

If this trend holds, it's good news for the planet: It shows that as they grow up, kids of today are more in tune with the concept of sustainability - a good thing, since they're the ones who are going to be around to sustain, and be sustained!