Saturday's New York Times carried a photo-assisted op-ed piece in which science journalist Ellen Ruppel Shell compared the supposedly typical U.S. school lunch to its counterparts in Russia, France, Mexico, and South Korea. Unfavorably, of course. Far be it from me to defend government-issue cuisine, but Shell's determination to prove that other countries do it better is obvious both from what she says and from what she omits.
The photo of the American lunch–pot roast, mashed potatoes, broccoli, an apple, and milk–is accompanied by this tendentious caption: "The gravy and chocolate milk may go down easy, but they don't do much to enhance the nutritional value of this fat-heavy meal." No one really expects gravy to enhance nutritional value; it is there, presumably, to make the meat (chock full of protein and iron, as Shell neglects to point out) more palatable. But the milk (an excellent source of calcium, plus vitamins B and D) is low-fat, and the chocolate flavoring does not increase the fat content.
The captions next to the other photos reinforce the suspicion that the fix is in. The South Korean lunch, for instance, is praised as "high in flavor, low in fat, and varied enough to keep even finicky eaters interested." Shell does not remark on the fried sweet potatoes, although one can imagine what she would have said if something similar had turned up on the American tray. The Russian meal, mostly beef and starch, is praised for its "fresh fruit": a tomato wedge and a cup of "mandarin orange compote." By contrast, the broccoli and apple in the U.S. lunch are ignored. The Mexican lunch ("a big dose of starch, but very little sugar or fat") features a vague item identified only as "meat" that fails to arouse Shell's journalistic curiosity.
That pot roast never stood a chance.