No such thing as a free lunch (literal edition)

It never ceases to amaze me that people are surprised by things like this: Kids in England don’t like the healthy lunches the schools are serving them. Why are they surprised that kids will happily accept a change in their routine that is shoved down their throats. (Of course, the same people who pushed for these changes are equally happy to shove things down the throats of adults they disagree with, so I don’t know why I’m surprised by any of it.)

As I see it, there are four major variables that contribute to the quality and desirability of food:

  • taste
  • healthfulness
  • ease of preparation
  • cost

The contribution of each variable to a food’s desirability is dependent on the individual in question, obviously, but as a first approximation, desirability is directly proportional to taste, healthfulness, and ease of preparation, and it is inversely proportional to cost. In other words, people tend to want food that tastes good, is good for them, is easy to prepare, and is cheap.

The problem is that these are not independent variables. Ease of preparation requires preprocessing that degrades healthfulness (unless you want to eat all raw foods). Cheap ingredients don’t taste as good and aren’t as good for you as expensive ones; as a rule, you get what you pay for. The cheapest and easiest way to take cheap ingredients of poor quality and make them taste good is to add fat and sugar — both of which our biology attracts us to, because humans evolved in times of scarcity not abundance — and salt, which enhances whatever flavor is present. All three in too great a quantity are bad for you.

To make everyone happy in the school lunch wars, we’d have to serve lunches that meet all four criteria. Activists and most parents want food that’s healthy; kids want it to taste good; schools need to keep the preparation as simple as possible; and schools and most parents want to keep costs down. But there simply isn’t much food that is tasty, healthy, cheap, and easy. I agree that schools ought not be serving junk and calling it dinner, but anyone who wants to improve the overall quality of school lunches needs to start from a realistic assessment of what’s possible and be prepared to work within those constraints.

Gourmet survivalist

car smashed by trees after the ice storm
(Photo by Justin Watt)

Last December we were hit with an ice storm unlike any storm I have ever seen. It began as snow early on a Wednesday afternoon as I draped the last of the Christmas lights over the holly bushes. By dusk the innocent snow had turned to the dreaded “wintry mix” that FCC regulations prohibit meteorologists from calling by a more appropriate term. By bedtime the trees were groaning; at 2:30 we were awakened by a vicious tearing sound and a crash: a tree had fallen on the power line to our house and ripped the line, assembly, and electric meter from the back wall. We called the electric company, an act of purest pollyannism. When the storm subsided, eight inches of ice had fallen. The evergreen boughs of our Southern pines caught much of that ice; weakened by months of drought, more of them lay on the ground (and on cars, and on houses) than after a category two hurricane six years before. None of the crashing limbs caused irreparable damage to our own property, but we lost running water for four days, electricity for nine. Continue reading “Gourmet survivalist”

Bustling

Central Market on a busy day bustles, a word we don’t use much anymore but which seems to describe an ideal city scene, crowds smoothly mingling in purposeful activity, not frenetic or restless but businesslike in a friendly way. That feeling is what I love about the market, and what I always notice first: the city of my childhood imagination, busy and purposeful and bustling. I have that feeling even when it is not particularly crowded, late on Tuesday mornings and mid-afternoons, times when no conventionally employed person should be out shopping. Even then it feels to me as if, perhaps, it is only waiting to bustle. Continue reading “Bustling”