Sunday, February 14, 2010

What The Hell Is Chuck Wagon Bagoo?

When Flash was in elementary school, among the soggy wads of crumpled papers that I would fish out from the bottom of his hellaciously messy backpack, I would find the monthly school lunch menu. This was a colored sheet of paper that would list the components of the government subsidized hot lunch that was prepared in the school's kitchen by the sweaty, chain smoking female cook. Each day's meal included a protein, a carb, a fruit and a vegetable, as required by the federal regulations that govern the school lunch program. Among the fried chicken nuggets, macaroni and cheese, and canned fruit selections was an item that appeared on the menu at least once a month: Chuck Wagon Bagoo. Not knowing what on earth this could possibly be, I asked Flash. "Oh, puke!" he said in typical 4th grader lingo. "That stuff is the grossest! It makes me want to hurl!" I didn't doubt that this was true, but I still wanted to know what it was. After pressing Flash for more details, he finally described it as "slimy noodles with chunks of horsemeat in gray goopy glopp". Based on this somewhat vivid description, I figured out that Chuck Wagon Bagoo was noodles with meat sauce. I understood the "Chuck" (ground beef) and assumed that "Wagon" just sorta came along to form "chuck wagon". But I never did understand the "Bagoo". All I knew was that my otherwise well-fed son was being given food that made him "want to hurl" on a daily basis.

And it wasn't just Flash's school, of course. Wonderwoman has been taking lunch from home for years because she refuses to eat the food provided in the cockroach infested school lunchroom. I'm sure that children in many other local yeshivas are also eating poor quality food prepared in unsanitary school kitchens. What's surprising is how infrequently we hear yeshiva parents complaining about the lousy food that their children are receiving.
In contrast, the quality of the meals served in public schools has been under scrutiny for quite some time. School districts across the country have been making serious efforts to provide fresher and more nutritious meals to students, in the hopes of warding off malnutrition and obesity and increasing the energy and focus of the children. In many cities, high fat and high sodium foods have been replaced by leaner cuts of meat, lowfat dairy products, and fresh fruits and vegetables (instead of canned). But there's still a lot of work to be done. One Illinois public school teacher, who is afraid to divulge her name lest she be fired, has decided to eat the school lunch every day for a year and to blog about it at Fed Up: School Lunch Project. Each day, she lists the components of the "hot lunch" that is served to the students, posts a picture of it, and discusses the taste and temperature of the food and whether or not she found it satisfying. I have to commend her for staying as upbeat as she does, because those pictures look so unappetizing to me, and she frequently notes that the meat is lukewarm, the fruit is still frozen, and the portions are inadequate. I also have to commend her for having the fortitude to eat that stuff at all. As any teacher can tell you, we adults who work in the schools feed these lunches to your children, but we never ever eat it ourselves. That alone ought to tell you something.


Mystery Woman said...

I remember one lunch when I was in school. There was chocolate pudding for dessert...which I liked. But there were these little lumps in them. Turns out, those lumps were peas.
I wonder if that was the vegetable requirement for the day, or just a surplus of peas that had to go somewhere.

SuperRaizy said...

Mystery Woman-
Chocolate pudding with peas?! I really hope that wasn't intentional on the part of the cook.

Modern Girl said...

Now I want chocolate pudding with peas...

I went home for lunch when I went to public school, so it wasn't an issue. But at university, residence students were forced to purchase a meal plan, which meant you couldn't afford to eat off campus. Wow, some of that stuff was gross. While I loved taco night, the majority of the time it was cheap pasta, or greasy fried food. The roasted chicken was fatty, and sliced ham was crunchy. And sometimes, the hamburgers would be pink, and sometimes the chicken fajitas or quesadillas would give you food poisoning.

Glad I live in an apartment with a kitchen now.

Baila said...

Parents probably don't complain about yeshiva lunches because if they do the schools will have the gourmet restaurants feeding the kids and tack on yet more money to tuition.

At my first job in a small special ed preschool in Brooklyn, the guy who cooked made such delicious lunches that me and my friends would go to the kitchen for leftovers. He started making extra for us and when the principal found out she went ballistic and there went our "free lunch".