Lunch in Government Cafeterias Pretty Gross, Lunch in Government Schools Much Grosser


Today The Washington Post publishes a hard hitting investigation into the food on offer in federal government cafeterias. Sample entry:

U.S. Department of Agriculture South Cafe—Grade: D

Sure, there was plenty that a PR guy could tout as healthful. There were 100-calorie snack packs, but inside them were processed cookies and chips. Calories were posted at the salad bar and the grill. But among the options were a cheese quesadilla with 780 calories and 53 grams of fat. Slices of pizza ($2.79) had whole-wheat crusts but tasted just like the school food the agency has vowed to overhaul. The salad bar (41 cents per ounce) was a throwback to the 1970s, with limp greens, mayo-laden tuna, baby corn and bacon bits….Of all the agencies we visited, the USDA should know better.

Most of the other sampled cafeterias offered similarly low-ranked fare, with the exception of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi's Longworth Cafe.

who drinks crystal light anyway?

Last week also saw a press release from the Center for Science in the Public Interest (the same folks going after Happy Meal toys), talking smack about the Food and Drug Administration's cafeteria.

Hiding in plain sight in the FDA cafeteria—quite literally under the noses of the officials tasked with policing misleading labels—were at least three beverages with illegal claims on their labels. 

The contraband drinks included: Purity.Organic Functional Drinks Pomegranate Blueberry. Its label claims it has "Ginkgo Biloba to enhance your memory and keep you thinking straight," but government-funded studies show ginkgo has no effect on memory and does not lower incidence of Alzheimer's or dementia, either.

you're lying if you say this doesn't looks a little bit delicious

But, as always, if you want to see government provision of goods and services at its worst, drop by a school:

Recently, Slow Food USA President Josh Viertel visited with some high school students in California, one of whom shared with him the gory tale of hot Cheetos with melted cheese on top.  In a bag.  With a fork. Lunch on the go! We asked our mole, Rameen, to send us a picture.  Whoahhhhh.

He reported that his school cafeteria sells them—not in the lunch line, but in one of the "competitive foods" lines.  He said they appeal to students whose lunch period is too short to wait on a long lunch line.

Note that while we are not strictly sure that this photo was taken in a public school, Internet chatter indicates that this is not an uncommon school lunch offering.


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  1. Oh my God, the public sector can’t even make lunch!

    1. Re: Max,

      Oh my God, the public sector can’t even make lunch!

      It certainly did not make you smart.

      1. Imagine your lunch counter being run by the Post Office.

        1. I prefer to imagine getting my lunch at the DMV. Except i never bring the right paperwork, so i have to go back home before i can get my lunch.

  2. These are the people that want to dictate what you eat.

  3. That Cheetos thing looks diabolically fascinating, and I don’t even like Cheetos.

    “Competitive food” lines? Does that mean that the cafeteria has several types of production line?

    I feel bad for kids who don’t have open campus. If I wanted tasty food fast, I just waltzed across the street to the WaWa, or Taco Bell, or the pizza place, or the multiple other offerings.

    1. We had closed campus when I went to High School. We just left campus.

      1. That is always an option. I guess I should change it to feeling bad for kids who don’t have fast food close enough to get to during a single period.

        1. That would be the poor kids in the poor neighborhoods that the government says shouldn’t have fast food joints.

    2. Hmm, thinking about that I realize that I had an open campus during 6, 7, and 8th grades but wasn’t allowed to leave during high school.

    3. I’ve seen the idea with a bag of Fritos (ground beef, salsa, sour cream, cheese and lettuce) to make a Walking Taco, but you’d think hot cheese would collapse the delicate cells of foamed grease that constitute the Cheetos superstructure.

      1. The powdered “cheese” that coats the superstructure (which is often snorted by eponymous “cheeseheads” and certain types of barely articulate tigers) is renowned for its capacity, when heated, to form a highly rigid crystalline structure and this allows the basic Cheetos cells to withstand both melted cheese and high impact gunshots.

        1. Ah, I have often wondered if it served a purpose. In the past I imagine it was just there to keep the individual nude Cheetos from rubbing together in the bag so loudly that people wouldn’t buy them after being frightened in the act of picking them up.

          1. It’s also a floor wax.

      2. Also a “Frito Pie”: open bag, pour in chili & cheese.

        It’s pretty

    4. Instructions for hot cheetos and cheese:…..312AAqonLL

  4. That cheese and Cheetos dish sounds good actually.

  5. He [our mole, Rameen] said they [quick lunches] appeal to students whose lunch period is too short to wait on a long lunch line.

    Which tells me High School cafeterias are nothing like Luby’s.

    1. Before anybody asks, I have never been in an American school. I pretty much bought my snacks outside my highschool, which was not (btw) some awe-generating pharaonic eyesore, unlike American highschools.

    2. My High School had two twenty minute lunch periods, both of which had about sixteen hundred students, and about ten lunch counters. So most people either brought a lunch or didn’t bother eating at school as we got out at two in the afternoon anyway.

      1. 20-minute lunch periods? Wha-?

        1. I think it had a lot to do with the teacher’s union negotiating the shortest school day they could.

    3. Damn, now I want Luby’s!

      Love their mac n cheese, fried fish, and fried okra.

  6. students whose lunch period is too short to wait on a long lunch line

    I smell some new laws here …

  7. We asked our mole, Rameen, to send us a picture.

    He operates as a team with Sooba and Udoon.

    1. The real-life Aqua Teen Hunger Force?

      1. “Gentlemen! Noodles have threatened man for generations. I have obtained funds to solve this noodle nightmare!”

    2. Since they have their own undercover mole, I expect they’ve also got pico de gallo, chimichurri, and various other delicious Mexican sauces and condiments doing recon (and taking our JERBS!).

    3. … against their nemisis, Cheetos.

    4. What do you have against Tommy Udoon?

  8. Cheetos with melted cheese on top.

    Damn. Now I’m hungry.

  9. $0.41/oz for a substandard* salad-bar? Sounds about right for gov’t work, higher prices for crappier results.

    *Substandard = worse than your local supermarket salad bar.

    1. Oh, and imainge the prices at Nancy Pelosi’s Longworth Cafe.

  10. “”Hiding in plain sight in the FDA cafeteria?quite literally under the noses of the officials tasked with policing misleading labels?were at least three beverages with illegal claims on their labels.

    The contraband drinks included: Purity.Organic Functional Drinks Pomegranate Blueberry.

    Its label claims it has “Ginkgo Biloba to enhance your memory and keep you thinking straight,” but government-funded studies show ginkgo has no effect on memory and does not lower incidence of Alzheimer’s or dementia, either.””

    Duh. These are the rules the FDA established for any ‘vitamin/fortified/’supplemented’ foods and beverages. They can say, “promotes”, “enhances”, “encourages”, etc. as long as they don’t make *disease*-focused structure / function claims. Like “improves”. “Helps improve” is actually OK as long as there is some anecdotal data on file. It was part of the DSHEA if I remember (“dietary supplement health & education act”.

    Wonderful details here on the requirements.……..isease-106

    The actual wording of the DSHEA law permits statements that:

    “”characterize the documented mechanism by which a nutrient or dietary ingredient acts to maintain such structure or function.””

    This point really comes down to certain terms such as

    “stimulate,” “maintain,” “support,” “regulate,” or “promote”

    which can be appropriate when the statements do not suggest disease prevention or treatment. However terms such as

    “”restore normal” or “correct abnormal” function when the abnormality implies the presence of disease””

    is not allowed. An example might be a claim to “restore” normal blood pressure when the abnormality implies hypertension.

    Additionally, if a claim implies disease treatment or prevention, it would not be an acceptable structure/function claim.

    “maintains healthy lungs in smokers” would imply prevention of tobacco-related lung cancer and chronic lung disease. “Maintains healthy lung function,” alone, however, would be an acceptable structure/function claim.

    So CSPI (unsurprisingly) is actually saying something they know to be untrue; namely, that the claims are *illegal*. They know as well as anyone else the requirements of the DSHEA. They just don’t LIKE it. Which is fine, because it is pretty bullshit, but tell that to the supplement lobby.

    Besides, CSPI going after “purity organic” is (like the previous posts on SF beverage bans) hilarious – these companies market themselves as health products *because of the very hysteria produced by the food nazis like the CSPI*. They are juice & water with a little supplement thrown in. Better than soda? Probably. Taste good? Mostly. But in the end, if what they are looking for is stuff thats *bad*, they will have to increasingly create monsters where none exist. The question i’d put to them (and I’ve spoken to some of their people before), is, what would you be *forcing* people to consume, had you the power? The answer is often missing. They are mainly “anti” stuff… with no real science or philosophy behind what “healthy” is supposed to be. They like to run around and scream foul and go after fake enemies, for what, I’m not sure. Probably to ensure they continue to get funding? Who knows. But I do know that if they are going after watered down organic juices now, they’ve really run short of things to be upset about.

  11. I wonder if they do this with Cheezies in Canadian schools. As I recall, they are even more disgusting than Cheetos.

  12. Ever had a “frito pie?” It’s a bag of Fritos Corn Chips, with chili and melted cheese dumped on top. They sell those all over Texas and the Southwest, so the bag o’ cheetos n’ cheese wasn’t that much of a shocker.

    1. Yes, I have. Good eatin’, too, when you’re in the mood.

    2. Yeah, I actually thought this sounded like Frito Pie minus the chili. In fact, it makes me think chili over Cheetos and extra cheese might actually be pretty good.

    3. LOVE Frito pie, especially when I’m In The Family Way.

  13. government-funded studies show ginkgo has no effect on memory and does not lower incidence of Alzheimer’s or dementia, either.

    They could at least use piracetam, which at least shows some positive results for long-term alcoholics and other brain damaged people.

    Not that I’m saying anything about government employees, mind you.

    1. That’s some good shit right there.

      “Piracetam improves cognitive performance of schizophrenics as it does with non-schizophrenics.”

      = everyone

  14. Now, if that were Hormel chili in a bag of Fritos, this pregnant Frito-pie lovin’ lady would approve.

    Cheese on Cheetos? Sacrilegious filth!

    1. Maybe someday I’ll pay attention to my browser’s spellcheck…

  15. Just get rid of all the cafeterias in schools and govt. offices. Everyone has to get off their lazy ass for 5 minutes and pack a lunch. Much healthier and cheaper.

    Problem solved.

  16. OMG! This guy is spot-on! I’m a food server in an elementary school and I have been disgusted with the food since I started. I tried to eat it for awhile and now I can’t even touch it. But he’s absolutely right, it’s the fault of the gov’t. I don’t know what the percentage is, but an awful lot of the food is “gov’t commodities.” These things are canned fruit, processed cheese, gr. meat, freeze dried chicken. The meat smells of organ meat and gives me a stomach ache.

    The breakfast is all fast food as are most of the lunches. When they try and get “healthy” they serve ice-berg lettuce with ranch dressing dumped on it.

    I know it could be done better, maybe if we got the government out of the picture and yes, just charge for lunches and if it’s too expensive, like the poster ahead of me, pack a lunch.

    Ever go to a hospital cafeteria? A much higher standard. Oh and PS – the kids HATE the pizza – yucky dough, icky sauce and processed cheese, ugh.

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