Ten Suggestions for Trump’s Flexible Foods School-Lunch Program

I guess I need a...spoon?
I guess I need a...spoon? bfishadow at Flickr
A public-school lunch has never been what you might call fine dining, but for the most part, we’ve been able to correctly refer to it as food. That is, with a few exceptions — most notably during the Reagan era, when ketchup briefly counted as a vegetable in U.S. Department of Agriculture discussions, as a money-saving move. (Legend has it that pickle relish did, too.) It was like that cheap friend of yours who asks for lemons with his water so he can make free lemonade at restaurants; it’s a wonder the USDA didn’t require that all school administrators go to Denny’s once a week on their own dime just to grab some sugar packets.

And because all of our old bad ideas are new again (racism! isolationism! plutocracy!), here comes a new “flexible foods” program from U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, designed to redefine free and reduced lunch programs and what qualifies under that nutritional banner in order to — you guessed it — save money. You know, on the backs of American children, because “Let the next generation worry about it” is what “Make America Great Again” really means. But what does “flexible food” really imply? Before the official release on May 1, here’s a modest proposal of ten totally realistic options.

click to enlarge This is the new lunch line.  The whole lunch line. - LANGUAGETEACHING AT FLICKR
This is the new lunch line. The whole lunch line.
LanguageTeaching at Flickr
10. Other Condiments
If ketchup is going to be a vegetable (shouldn’t it be a fruit?), and pickle relish is, too, then why not make a meal of condiments? Mustard is a grain, or at least a seed, which is close enough. Mayonnaise is dairy, and don’t even get us started on all those veggies that come together to make salsa! That’s a full plate, right there, and it’s all stuff that you can get in packets at the drive-through.

click to enlarge Well, it's loaded with fiber. - SEAMUS HOLMAN AT FLICKR
Well, it's loaded with fiber.
Seamus Holman at Flickr
9. Packing Peanuts
The word “peanut” is right there in the name, so it’s already close to actual food. They’re edible, and kids who eat school lunch are already used to food so bland that it’s almost completely without flavor. (Thanks, canned green beans!) And two bonuses: 1) no one’s allergic to these sorts of peanuts, and 2) add some cheese powder to them, and presto: cheese puffs!

click to enlarge This kid is like a beer prodigy. - JOHN C. WILLETT AT FLICKR
This kid is like a beer prodigy.
John C. Willett at Flickr
8. Beer
We can all admit that at some point in most kids’ lives — probably college — beer is going to be one of the staples of their diet. So why not start them early, and train them how to drink for sustenance in a responsible and completely un-litigious way? “We’re really pleased to hear the president’s ideas,” says a completely fictional spokesperson for a major national brewing company that definitely has nothing to do with Pure Rocky Mountain Spring Water. “This is an exciting and new market for our products, previously untapped except when they’d steal from their folks or slip an extra $10 to the homeless dude in front of the liquor store. Appealing to high school students was frankly always on our radar, but to be honest, we never dared dream of cracking that elusive elementary school barrier.”

click to enlarge It's like having a tiny chef bolted to the wall of every classroom. - GEOFFREY GALLOWAY AT FLICKR
It's like having a tiny chef bolted to the wall of every classroom.
Geoffrey Galloway at Flickr
7. Pencil Shavings
Kids already love wood pulp. The stuff is in everything from chicken nuggets to french fries to cheese (and that’s your Happy Meal right there, kid — now enjoy your yummy wood and go play with your gender-specific toy). So why not use what’s already in the pencil sharpeners for the same food additive, then move it from additive up to main dish? And while we’re at it, we should also stop coddling the kids by forming cellulose into attractive shapes and flavors. That costs money, and money is something the Trump administration is trying to redistribute to the upper 1 percent so that it can later trickle down, as it has proven time and time again to so effectively do.

click to enlarge My fingers taste like pennies! - SIMON LAW AT FLICKR
My fingers taste like pennies!
Simon Law at Flickr
6. Fingernails
Studies have shown that 30 percent of children between seven and ten chew their nails, and that number rises to 45 percent in the teen years. Moving past how disgusting that may be, based on the general hygiene of the average child and what awfulness must be clinging to the underside of those nails, perhaps the USDA can put that bad habit to good use. The calories and nutrients found in the nails themselves — and what’s under them, germs aside — should count for something, right?

Keep reading for more new food groups.

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Teague Bohlen is a writer, novelist and professor at the University of Colorado Denver. His first novel, The Pull of the Earth, won the Colorado Book Award for Literary Fiction in 2007; his textbook The Snarktastic Guide to College Success came out in 2014. His new collection of flash fiction, Flatland, is available now.
Contact: Teague Bohlen