Unnecessary hunger in the midst of plenty

There are things in life that I simply fail to comprehend.

One of them is how people can be allowed to go hungry in a community where food is being thrown away.

Is it really so impossible to get food that isn’t needed to where it is needed?

In the area town where I reside, we have a beautiful example of how this can work. A few restaurants and the university servery set aside their extra food, which ends up getting bagged up by volunteers and handed out at a local church to whoever wants and needs it on Monday nights. It isn’t even charity; it’s a matter of using what we have.

Much too simple and effective a thing for our government to fathom; luckily they haven’t noticed the program yet, so haven’t had a chance to mess it up.

Food costs an arm and a leg. In a community with needs, it’s a shame that anything goes to waste.

A great deal of food goes to waste at the area schools – and here’s what really should tick you off – because government regulation forbids them from sharing it.

That’s right. The government insists that extra food in schools is thrown in the garbage instead of being used to feed the hungry. To call this concept asinine is giving it too much credit.

Here’s the brilliant minds of bureaucracy at work. They deliver peanut butter by the crate to the elementary school in our town through a federal grant paid for by your tax dollars, while at the same time enforcing nutrition regulations that essentially prevent school cooks from serving peanut butter to children. To top off this lunacy, they forbid schools from giving away the peanut butter they can’t use, so perfectly good protein sits in cases stacked up in a closet until it expires, and gets thrown away, while the shelves are often nearly bare at local food pantries.

We elect people with all manner of bluster about how they are going to brilliantly change everything. And yet not one of them can manage to figure a way to allow hungry people to eat extra peanut butter sitting around going to waste.

Why is school food getting thrown out?

Mainly because the government is mandating that schools serve food that kids won’t eat.

Maybe cauliflower and pickled beets are the shiznits in the congressional cafeteria, but I doubt if 7-year-olds are standing in line for it. Of course you need nutrition, but you have to use your head too. The regulations require the serving of whole wheat baked goods, great, but don’t allow the cooks to use any seasoning or spice, which results in bread that one local school official describes as “disgusting.”

The schools do their best. Bland bagels are made into breakfast sandwiches. Salad bars disguise some of the stuff necessary to fulfill the nutritional color chart. But condiments are sharply regulated; a kid gets one of those miniscule packets of catsup per meal.

At the elementary level, children are served the entire prescribed meal whether they want it or not; no wonder so much of the food winds up going into the garbage untouched – including entire entrees and unopened cartons of milk or juice.

All of this would be more acceptable if regulations were eliminating child hunger. They are not.

According to a school official in my town, for one example, a chicken meal with side dishes can be replaced with a small cheeseburger, but if the student so chooses, all they get on their plate is that burger, since the school must adhere to strict calorie limits. A plate with just a little bun and a meat patty is a school meal? I’m no nutritionist, but when did young bodies stop needing carbs to get through the day?

Yep, your government is actually preventing kids in such a case from having fruit, vegetables and grains because the numbers don’t fit into their plan. Ridiculous.

Sometimes the meal is a few ounces of tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich. That’s supposed to run a high-metabolism young body for a long day of education, recess, and maybe a bus ride home and a long wait until a parent gets home from work to make supper. If the school hands out a second sandwich to a kid with a growling tummy, it risks getting in serious trouble for failing to follow regulation.

Sometimes I think it is our country’s leaders who should be sent back to third grade.

When the elementary school gives out a late afternoon snack, often children are ravenous, the local official said.

Seventy-five percent of public school kids in my Iowa town qualify for free-and-reduced-price lunches because their families are needy. School was let out early for a snow day recently, and some children were visibly upset – they don’t have much to eat at home. This, remember, while schools are throwing away apples, peanut butter and milk.

“There is now so much stress on balancing food groups that it has gone too far extreme,” the official tells me. “And yet, somehow, it’s OK to serve hot dogs. You know what’s in hot dogs? Doesn’t that make you wonder? The concern about child obesity is understandable, but so many of the kids we serve are underweight. They would have to run around in a shower to get wet.”

We have food. We have hungry people. All we need now is a government capable of getting out of its own way.

Dana Larsen is editor of the Pilot-Tribune in Storm Lake and a former staff writer at The Messenger.