School Lunch: Who’s Holding the Bag?

The “What’s Cooking” column is a weekly feature of the newspaper I work for, the Wayne Independent in Honesdale PA.  Members of the staff take turns writing the column, and this week (8/27/2014) it’s my turn. We don’t archive this column to our website, so I thought I’d reproduce it here for you…


For some reason, when I was a kid, I wasn’t a big fan of soups, especially tomato-based ones. So one day, when some hearty chock-full-o’-vegetables concoction was the lunch du jour at my little Catholic school in Florida, second-grade me objected.

I raised quite a fuss, apparently; I believe words like “I demand an alternative” got thrown around a bit… Needless to say, the nuns were none too pleased by my defiant and ungrateful performance.  I mercifully have no recollection of the exact nature of my punishment, but I am sure that extended contemplation – not to mention forced consumption – of said bowl of soup was involved.

Nowadays, of course, things are a bit different.  School nutrition specialists – you know, the lunch ladies – are bending over backwards and tying themselves in knots, bless their slotted spoons, trying to provide meals and snacks that (a) are sufficiently nutritious, (b) fit within tight school budgets, and (c) kids will eat without physical coercion.  The problem is that most foods seem to fit into at most two of those categories.

Complicating matters is the degree to which politics – and profits – have become involved in what should be a fairly straightforward process. Surprisingly enough, usually practical and disciplinarian conservatives (who back in the day would certainly have supported the right of the nuns to make me eat that soup) are now backing the rights of kids to exercise their freedom of choice in lunch lines and at vending machines, while also trying to whack millions off school lunch budgets.

First Lady Michelle Obama and her admirable “Let’s Move” campaign to combat childhood obesity have (with the best of intentions, mind you) presented school nutritionists with difficult-to-navigate schedules of daily allowable dosages for fats, sugars, and salt.  (You can get an idea of what they’re going through by going to and checking out the “Smart Snacks in Schools Webinar.”)

Budget considerations are driven by commodity prices, which depend on the subsidies in the Farm Bill passed by Congress (under the strong influence of agribusiness and the processed food industry) – subsidies that frequently result in lower prices for the less nutritious foods while making the good stuff more expensive.  As food writer and activist Michael Pollan says in his article “You Are What You Grow,” “The reason the least healthful calories in the supermarket are the cheapest is that those are the ones the farm bill encourages farmers to grow… The farm bill essentially treats our children as a human Disposall for all the unhealthful calories that the farm bill has encouraged American farmers to overproduce.”

So in the face of all this craziness, what are parents of school-aged children to do? In a recent conversation, Karen Carlson, Food Services Director for the Wayne Highlands School District, pointed out the obvious place to start: setting good nutrition examples at home. “If kids are throwing away apples, that’s not a behavior they’re being taught in school,” she says.  Her colleague Barbara Zeiler at Wallenpaupack Area School District agrees: “The education process has to start at home and we need to get back to basics. Families need to garden and/or support local farmers; prepare nutritious foods together; and eat together as a family unit.”

Experts also suggest discussing nutrition choices with your kids, and getting them involved from the beginning in planning – and making! – their lunches.  Encourage open-mindedness in trying new and unfamiliar foods.

Sarah Wu, blogger and author of FED UP WITH LUNCH, suggests five ways that parents can improve school lunches by getting involved: (1) Starting a school wellness committee; (2) Rallying for salad bars; (3) Requesting ingredient transparency; (4) Fighting to increase eating time; and (5) Encouraging nutrition education across the curriculum. (All three Wayne County school districts have wellness committees, by the way; information is available at each district website.)

The school lunchroom has always been a place of barely controlled chaos – but now it’s also a place where a number of critical social issues collide. What happens there not only affects our children’s health and ability to learn – and hence their future effectiveness as citizens and workers –  it’s also connected to our management of the economy and the environment, and shows us just how willing we really are to “promote the general welfare” as our Founders intended. Whether as parents, students, or citizens, we all need to educate ourselves on the issues involved and make our voices heard.


And in the meantime, there are all sorts of resources on the Net for making lunches that are both interesting and healthy.  Here’s an easy and clever idea, for example – a RAINBOW LUNCH BOX: Create a colorful assemblage of red strawberries, orange carrots, yellow strips of cheese, green celery sticks, and blue corn tortilla chips!

And here’s another that sounds right yummy – HAM AND CHEESE MUFFINS:

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups buttermilk
2 eggs
1/4 cup vegetable or canola oil
2 tablespoons maple syrup or honey
1 cup cheddar cheese, shredded
1 cup ham, chopped fine


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Combine the first 5 dry ingredients in a bowl and stir to combine.
  3. In a separate bowl whisk the eggs, oil and maple syrup and stir to combine.
  4. Add the buttermilk to the egg mixture and stir.
  5. Add the buttermilk mixture to the flour and stir until just combined.
  6. Fold in the cheese and ham.
  7. Scoop the batter 2/3 of the way up into greased muffin cups and bake for 18-20 minutes (15 minutes if using mini muffin cups).



Churn, Churn, Churn

(with apologies to Pete Seeger and the Book of Ecclesiastes)

To everything (churn, churn, churn)
There is a season (churn, churn, churn)
And a time for every stage of the financial cycle

A time to buy low, a time to sell high
A time to invest, a time to downsize
A time to merge, a time to acquire
A time to spin off troubled divisions


A time for gain, a time for loss
A time to hire, a time to downsize
A time you may outsource
A time to refrain from outsourcing


A time to make loans, a time to collect
A time to refinance, a time to foreclose
A time to issue investor guidance
A time to restate earnings expectations


A time to compete, a time to collude
A time to lobby, a time to have lunch
A time to decry intrusive regulation
A time to demand extensive government intervention



(I don’t know if Sullivan County is in the coverage area for Bob Beierly’s publication OUR TOWN, but here on the PA side of the river you can’t swing a cat without hitting one of his stands.  A longtime feature of local life in Wayne and Pike Counties, this free magazine combining right-wing politics and sometimes salacious humor has recently begun expanding its reach into Orange County, parts of New Jersey and other areas.  In his front-page editorials and stories, Bob presents himself as an unapologetic “conservative Christian patriot,” by turns sentimental and confrontational – sometimes controversially so – and judging by the number of ads he sells, his audience just eats it up.

(The “Patriot Connectors” describe themselves as an “informal patriotic discussion group” that has been meeting for the past three years or so.  They have a website at They recently hosted an appearance by Mr. Beierle, which I happened to attend, and which inspired the following.)

Bob Beierly
Publisher, OUR TOWN
Newfoundland PA

Dear Bob -

Kudos on your appearance at the “Patriot Connectors” meeting at Wallenpaupack High School on August 14.  I knew I was in for an interesting experience when we pulled into the parking lot and found it packed to the gills – clearly, many of your readers were eager to see you in person and put a face to the words they read in your publication.  You must have been very gratified by the turnout, and with the enthusiastic reception you received.  So, sincerely, congratulations.

You wouldn’t have noticed me in the near-overflow crowd … I was only one of many balding and bearded fat white guys in attendance. I saw a few younger couples, some with kids in tow, but mostly the audience was elderly. You may have noticed that rising out of the narrowly spaced seats to stand for the Pledge and the opening prayer was a bit of a struggle for some of us.

(Why weren’t there more younger people, do you think? … And can you make the kind of change you want to make without them?)

You quickly endeared yourself to the crowd, introducing your lovely wife and displaying a kind of aw-shucks humility. (Bringing your “cuss jar” on stage was a nice touch… it gave you a certain license  … though maybe you should have fed it when you got to the phrase “camel-humping” to describe the Benghazi attackers.)  As you warmed up, you touched on many standard conservative tropes – immigration, the “liberal media,” Nancy Pelosi, Benghazi – but I found it interesting that you spoke John Boehner’s name with almost as much disdain as Obama’s… and that you made few if any mentions of any of the major conservative politicians. No shoutouts to Palin, no Cruz, no Rand Paul…  Instead, if I understand you correctly, you see the conservative talk show hosts – Limbaugh, Hannity, Ingraham, etc. – as the people to lead your patriot tribe.  Or rather, you want them to take more of a leadership role; specifically, you want them to encourage a three-day occupation of Washington DC in the spring. You think that such a display – a “million patriots on the Mall,” I believe you stated as a goal – will force the politicians to pay more attention to your concerns, and you encouraged your audience to pressure the talk show hosts towards more action.  (You might recall what happened before the invasion of Iraq, when millions hit the streets not only in DC but around the world in protest, but George W. Bush blithely dismissed the numbers by saying “We don’t run this government based on focus groups.”)

I agree with you on some points – I, too, think the nation is headed in the wrong direction, though we disagree on what direction would be right, and on who’s really guiding the deterioration of the country and its democratic institutions. I agree with you that our political system has become largely unresponsive to the needs of ordinary citizens – though I note that you didn’t talk much about the moneyed corporate interests that government does respond to.  I agree with you that direct action, and increased citizen involvement and participation, will be necessary to get things back on track – but why not start locally, in counties and states? You have to climb some hills before you scale those mountaintops you spoke of so passionately – why not occupy Harrisburg first, or for that matter Honesdale? Can your movement really deal with the realities of governance, in the diverse, polycultural, interconnected America of today?\

I’m very glad that I went to your talk, and I’m looking forward to more dialogue. Next month, I understand the Patriot Connectors will host independent Congressional candidate Nick Troiano. Maybe I’ll see you there.

All the best, your pal,


The folks at Hobby Lobby (which apparently is an evangelical ministry disguised as a craft store) took out a full-page ad in the papers recently, touting the notion that the United States was from the outset intended to be a “Christian nation” (whatever that is supposed to mean – but that’s another column). I guess they were reveling in the heady feeling of victory, following the Supreme Court decision that recognized their right to apply their religious beliefs to the benefit package that they offered their employees. Many liberals and progressives were upset by the decision, but not me.

It was just the opening I’ve been waiting for.

You’re probably aware that members of the Religious Society of Friends (“Quakers”) like myself are pacifists, and oppose military spending. You might not know that some Quakers (and members of other “peace churches,” like the Mennonites and Brethren) take this matter so seriously that to avoid paying for war they withhold some or all of their Federal taxes – with all the consequences that you might expect, from garnishment of wages to actual imprisonment. It’s called “war tax resistance,” and I wrote about it in this space some years ago. (To learn more about war tax resistance, see, or

American law has long recognized the right of citizens to refuse to participate directly in war, when that refusal is based in religious or moral belief (you might remember the phrase “conscientious objectors”). I have maintained that we should also be able to direct our tax dollars away from war, or from any government activity, that violates such beliefs. This is a principle that transcends denomination, though – that is to say, it’s not just for us peaceniks. Conservatives should have a similar right – and it is precisely that right that the Supremes have brought to the fore in the Hobby Lobby case.

So what I want is simple enough. All taxpayers should be able, by means of a simple checkbox on the tax form, to tell the government where not to spend our tax contributions. For me, that means defense; for a conservative Catholic, that might mean family planning. I don’t know how far people might go – would an orthodox Jew or Muslim object to pork subsidies? Would vegetarians prefer to not support the USDA meat inspection program? – but it’s not our place to judge the sincerely held beliefs of others. Religious freedom, right?

Please note a couple of things. My proposal would not affect actual expenditures at all. (The small-government people don’t like this part.) The same amount of money would be spent as Congress appropriated; the money would just be drawn from different sources. It’s a mere matter of bookkeeping, one well within the capabilities of current systems. Indeed, we do something similar already with the Presidential Campaign Fund check-off.

It would also not affect an individual’s overall tax liability, and it says nothing about the government’s right to levy and collect taxes. (This is the point in the argument where the anti-tax activists turn away.)

Finally, this right would not be a trivial thing to claim. Conscientious objectors to military service had to go through a fairly rigorous process of documenting their beliefs, and a similar process should apply here as well.

I doubt that legislation to implement such a proposal would be passed, so I’m thinking a lawsuit would be the way to proceed. A class action against the Department of the Treasury and the IRS, to be exact.

So, if you’re a lawyer with experience in tax law and/or religious freedom issues, or if you know someone who is, or if you’d like to be part of the class, or if you have any suggestions or reactions to my idea, drop me a line, would you please? My email is, or you can comment below…



“Hello, welcome to Hobby Lobby, how can I help you?”
“Well, you people can quit the deceptive advertising, for one thing.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“You say you sell Craft supplies, right”?
“Well, here’s my card, my name is Morgana Freya’s-child Isisflower, and I am High Priestess of the Circle of Kali in Her Partying Aspect. I practice the Craft, see? So I looked up ‘craft supplies’ on Google, and you guys came up first, so here I am! And let me tell you, I’ve been up and down every aisle of this store and except for this nice piece of hemp rope and these candles I can’t find any of the stuff I need for a handfasting ceremony I’m supposed to conduct tomorrow…”
“Plastic or paper? Oh wait – Craft? You mean – like witchcraft?”
“Just put them in my tote, young man, thank you… No, we don’t call it that anymore, that’s so 17th-century, y’know… We prefer the word ‘Wicca.’ We do ceremonies, you know, rites – and I’ve already been to Rite-Aid, by the way, and they couldn’t help me either…”
“But – but we’re all Christians here…”
“I see. OK, you got any unsanctified hosts? I have a friend who needs some of those by next Friday for some thing he’s doing… not my bag, personally, but whatever…”
“What? No, those would be for Catholics…”
“Well, they’re Christians, aren’t they?”
“No – I mean yes – well, I mean, I guess so… No, wait a minute, you’re the one who is confused here, ma’am, I’m sorry, this store is for hobbyists…”
“Hobbyists? I’m not familiar with that religion, is that like the Christian Scientists? ‘Christian Hobbyists’?”
“No, ma’am, there is no such thing as Christian Hobbyists…”
“Are you sure about that? I think it would be a pretty popular church. – Hey, who’s that? Quick, get down, some guy’s coming in here with a rifle! Goddess save us all!”
“Hey, good afternoon – pardon me, but where can a guy find some Kevlar cloth? I wanna make a soft case for my gun here, I just brought it along so we could measure…”
“I’m sorry, sir, can I help you?- Ma’am, what are you doing with that chalk?”
“Casting a circle of protection, that’s what I’m doing! That guy’s a menace!”
“Hey, look here sister, I ain’t trying to cause any –“
“And I’m not a nun, I’m a High Priestess, buster!”
“What’s going on over here, Stevens? I heard some disturbance…”
“Oh, Mr Thompson! Uh, nothing, sir, we just have some misunderstandings…”
“Sir, I’m sorry, we generally don’t allow firearms to be brought into the store… Do you have an open carry permit?”
“Yes sir – I also have membership in the First Church of Christ Ballistic, we’re expected to open carry wherever possible, y’know, like them Sikhs and those daggers they got? Anyway, I just wanted to get some material to make a nice gun case for my friend, she’s getting married tomorrow…”
“Say, wait a minute – are you talking about Hildegard Rainbarrel, by any chance?”
“What’s that, ma’am? You know Hildy? Yeah, we belong to the same gun club, she invited me to some thing – they don’t call it a wedding, but whatever, y’know? Her and Sam, they’re a nice couple, and she’s got this same kind of rifle…”
“Yeah, I’m going to officiate – and it’s called a handfasting, by the way –“
“Yeah, that was it! Couldn’t think of it…”
“Hey, do you know where I could find a nice ceremonial sword? I need one for the ceremony…”
“Sword? Heck, I got a whole wallful, you wanna check ‘em out? I’d be glad to let you borrow one…”
“Why yes, that would be wonderful – and I don’t know about Kevlar, but the fabric store next door has some really sturdy ripstop nylon… and you’ll need some nice lining… My name’s Morgana, by the way…”
“Well, glad to meet you, Morgana, my name’s Arthur… Let’s stop by that coffee shop first, I’ll show you the design I had in mind…”
“Mr. Thompson, what just happened?”
“I don’t know, Lyle, but I need you to clean up that chalk drawing. I think Susie back in Dry Flowers is about to go into labor…”


Y’know how there are some names that you would be perfectly happy never hearing again in your whole life?  Well, for me one of those names is Ahmed Chalabi, who was one of the leading cheerleaders for the invasion of Iraq. Now, that damn name is coming up again, as a possible replacement for Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki.  Therefore, I resurrect this post from 2004…

Herewith, a small impertinence, regarding the guy who may have misled us (not that we weren’t willing, even eager!) into invading Iraq merely to further the Iranians’ designs and his own ambitions… Enjoy!

To the tune of “Eric the Half-A-Bee” by Monty Python

Chalabi, historically,
Was basically
A wannabe.
But wannabes have fantasies
Of ways to seize their destinies.
D’you see?

So Chalabi was said to be
Or not to be an Iraqi
Who came back home to remedy
Some very ancient injury…

La dee dee, one two three,
Ahmed Chalabi.
A B C D E F G,
Ahmed Chalabi.

Is this wretched S.O.B.,
Our friend, or is he enemy
Is he what he seems to be?
No! He’s Ahmed Chalabi!

Fiddle de dum, fiddle de dee,
Ahmed Chalabi.
Shows you what you want to see,
Ahmed Chalabi.

I’d love to see him R.I.P.,
But if that is not yet to be,
I’d see him live on ABC,
Exposing the G.O.P.

Razzamatazz, whoop-dee-dee,
Ahmed Chalabi.
Loves the Ayatollah Khomeini,
Ahmed Chalabi.

Rummy says, “He sure fooled me!”
Colin Powell begins to see,
But he’s still believed by Dick Cheney,
Ahmed Chalabi!

Freedom Song (How Can You Say)

how can you say that you are free
when you’re held down by gravity
you can’t float no you can’t fly
better be careful if you try

how can you say that you are free
when physics, math, and chemistry
control you more than any man
defy them? I don’t think we can

all your talk of freedom, freedom, freedom
it makes no sense to me
when you talk of freedom, freedom, freedom
I don’t know what you mean
all your talk of freedom, freedom, freedom
ain’t reality
all your talk of freedom, freedom, freedom
an illusion to me

how can you say that you are free
entrapped in your biology
gotta eat gotta breathe gotta sleep gotta cry
sooner or later you gotta die

how can you say that you are free
a member of society
must conform to unwrit rules
never taught in any school


how can you say that you are free
enmeshed in this economy
compelled to work, to buy and sell
or live inside a poor man’s hell

how can you say that you are free
constrained by ideology
can only see what you believe
blindly follow those who lead


yes, freer is better, that’s for sure
But there’s no freedom that is pure
Just slaveries of different kinds
If you’re not free within your mind