just a mom and the FSMC…part 5

As some of you know, for the past month or so, I and some of the readers here, have been having a discussion with “Adam”, a school food service management consultant and former USDA employee. I have developed a love-hate relationship with Adam. On one hand, his FSMC attitude, marketing mind-set and topic dodging responses are tedious and frustrating. On the other hand, the points he makes on the USDA related issues are straight forward,  honest, and something I can build on. Just as I’m about to pull my hair out, he says something that gives me hope for this whole politically driven school lunch circus. He’s arrogant, condescending, pushy and yet, for some reason, I like him. Probably, because he can take everything I dish out…and them gives it right back to me. Obviously, I’m no major food service management consultant guy…and he is clearly no mom in a suburb worried about what her kid is eating. I like having someone from the other side offer their input…no matter how frustrating it is to me. I’m hoping he will give me input and advice when it comes to initiating a farm to school program in my town. Unfortunately, in the FSMC arena…I’m pretty sure Adam and I will never agree. That’s Ok. Maybe we can have one of those “opponents on the field/ buddies off the field” sort of relationships.  A couple of weeks ago, he had responded to my post and some of the comments that had been made. I appreciate the time he takes to do so.  I’m thinking we need to start a different blog…”moms vs the corporate FSMC”…and make it where everyone can post. All of these perspectives are helpful. I’ll get back to you on that….In the meantime, I’ll respond to FSMC Adam…not USDA Adam…I like him:)
 
Let me recap and re-iterate my concerns one more time concerning school lunches, school districts, the USDA and FSMC’s:
  • on marketing: You can market your FSMC concept all you want. Keep in mind, however, that marketing and education are two different things. Marketing fruits and vegetables is one thing…putting a blueberry PopTart and french fries on the menu and calling them such, is another. Marketing fresh fruit + handing them a piece of fresh fruit = good and educational. Marketing fresh fruit + handing them a cup of fruit swimming in high fructose corn syrup and dyes = irresponsible and not educational.
  • on education: It should be left up to educators and parents…not a brand. Period. If we are going to start allowing brands to educate our children at school (for the sake of their well-being, of course), and use the mind-set that this is the only way kids will learn, then I would like to sign my son’s school up for XBOX to come in and promote technology. Sure, Apple would make more sense…but computers aren’t nearly as fun as XBOX. Kids love that.  They could make an XBOX mascot and he could high-kick around while they are supposed to be learning. Will kids stay engaged if we put our teachers in Pokemon suits? Star Wars costumes? ARAMARK’s Cool*Caf Ace? Perhaps I can conduct a focus group made up of children and see what they say. I can take my “control group” results to the TEA Board. I just solved our low test score problem! I just made children love school! Are you seeing where I’m going with this?
  • on FSMCs: I understand their role in commodities. You are 100% correct  when you say they are better equipped to handle commodities. However, please do not leave out the detail about the quality of the commodities. It does indeed take a very large entity to turn low-grade, left over, spent egg laying chickens into an edible food-like item. Our school kitchens will never be able to do that. They are just not equipped to handle food processing. Nor would it ever be allowed…the chemicals and necessary additives to transform that sad looking chicken back into chicken someone may eat would be a nightmare. Obviously, it has to be processed. However, an FSMC that takes over menus, starts integrating their brand,  lowering food quality, and then says…”What? Where just meeting the standards” is being a bottom feeder. The USDA never told a company to charge hundreds of thousands of dollars to paint a cafeteria and send in the squirrel suit. You know as well as I do, that making a commodity healthier is difficult and  more expensive than creating a website,  posters and collecting fees. Admit it, your company got lazy. They want to continue making money without having to spend money…and have sent consultants like yourself to do the dirty work. You, too, friend, are being used to maintain a profit.
  • on the USDA: They are in place to make guidelines and ensure our children are not being served cat food. They are not in place to encourage a company to go above and beyond the minimum requirements and turn a  profit ethically. I will say, they should also quit offering up the lowest common denominator for commodities. That way, FSMCs would not have to double as food magicians. You have made comments referring to people not willing to pay more taxes to fund better food, about how they aren’t willing to work cheaper, about how they expect better food without financial consequences…and then you threw out the word “socialist”. Tell, me, what’s the word for a company who receives  taxpayer money as a paycheck, expects payment for doing the minimum amount of work required without financial consequences, doesn’t seek to improve their own standards and says things like “don’t blame us, blame the system”? Don’t answer…it’s a rhetorical question.
In response to your comments: 
 
Adam:
I read your comments and decided to return with a few more additions as a follow-up to your posts / questions. I want to respond in kind, because most of the comments posted in response to mine are elusive and demonstrate the lack of knowledge on school food. Your initial posts were more on target albeit flawed (at least in my opinion). Agreeably, you answered some of my questions, unfortunately not the right ones.

 

Adam, I’m sorry if my comments seemed elusive. It’s just that commenting to reiterate what had already been addressed  seemed redundant. I also apologize for answering the wrong questions..I didn’t realize this was a test.
 
Adam:

If you read my post carefully – I stated that your initial claim of “School Food being simple” was dead wrong. Then, I provided details why it was not simple. If you had posted something to the effect “You are right – maybe it is not so simple” or at the least tell me (or your fans) how you can actually serve the USDA required food (either based on a food or a nutritional menu) using some of the “natural” ingredients within the “cost guidelines” (if you do not recall – read my previous post mentioning a $1 to $0.9 to serve the required food and beverage components), then that would have been a great response

 

Really? “If I would have posted something to the effect of ‘You are right….’” ?  I’ll answer for myself, thank you…this supports the whole concept of a discussion.  
 
Adam:

However, you opted to answer the simplest question – which turns out to be “how you choose a car seat”. I am not writing this to insult any one. The fact remains, that developing today’s school menu is a pretty darn complex job and it is NOT simple!

I didn’t choose to answer the easiest question. I chose to answer the most ridiculous…this one: “When you purchased your child’s car seat – did you look for a company that made little or no profit, or did you look for a car seat that is the safest within your budget? What is the difference?” I answered it, because you,  a FSMC employee, didn’t understand the difference. And, as I mentioned before, because I had already discussed the other issues in previous posts. Yes, school menus and government requirements are complex and not simple. What I was referring to when I said “school food should be simple” was this…

 
The food. In the school. Should be simple. Strip away the guidelines, the menus, and the money. Pretend we aren’t even talking about budgets. The food, Adam. The food going into our children’s mouths on a daily basis….should be simple.  
In other words…the food (ie. what they put in their mouth, not including the politics surrounding it) should be simple. Example:
 
simple: my grandma’s gravy: flour, milk, butter, pepper to taste.
 
not simple: HealthyTara’s school lunch gravy: maltodexrin, modified cornstarch, bleached enriched wheat flour, hydrolyzed corn gluten, soy, wheat gluten protein, cornstarch, partially hydrogenated soybean and cottonseed, whey, onion powder, yeast extract, less than 2% sugar, soybean oil, caramel color, xanthan gum, soy sauce, garlic powder, dextrose, disodium inosinate, disodium guanylate, spice, sunflower oil, citric acid, thamine  
 
Adam:

Maybe – you can answer how you would develop this menu within the cost guidelines – now that would be much more appreciated. By the way, you can in fact can shop around for school food. You can get elected to your “School Board” which most likely decides who will provide the food to your district. However, I am sure you’ll be asked to answer the same question I posed earlier.
My answer? Opposing gigantic squirrel suits and counter-productive educational materials that cost way too much money…from the food budget. Being elected to a school board would only create a conflict of interest on my part…especially since I am the one asking the questions, but thank you for the consideration. 😉
 
Adam:
You are correct – that if you scream enough – someone will hear you and respond. It may not be the correct response or the change needed – but they will.

 Who is screaming? Are we talking about my end? Do you mean change like this? Or change like this? I’m partial to both. Or are we talking about your end?

  
Adam:

Cleaner labels should be the goal for not just schools, but also for groceries. It again comes down to the cost equation (which you are avoiding to discuss). I’ll simplify it:
– Schools have to meet certain USDA requirements (we can’t do anything about this unless it is changed)
– Schools also have to meet cost guidelines.
– Under the existing parameters, schools meet these guidelines by offering food that does not have the cleanest labels (what you claim kills kids)
– Are you in agreement that we can serve healthier food (that meet the USDA guidelines) if we had some more money (I assume the answer is yes – unless you can answer the cost question above). So – what can we do? Raise taxes? Oh no – we do not want that since you indicate your taxes are already high. Well – if it is to save lives, I do not mind paying more taxes? Do you? Or we can increase the federal reimbursement rate – oops that also means higher taxes.

I have discussed cost equation to death. I wasn’t avoiding it…I was just assuming you had already read that part. Cleaner labels…HealthyTara…any of this ringing  bell? But if you want to get down to brass tacks…why is your end sweating the cost equation about labels and healthier food?? Didn’t you say schools needed FSMC’s because:  “They have purchasing power on not just food – but everything ranging from IT systems, equipment to the labels that are placed on food to identify the source.”  and “They have better (usually) systems to more effectively use commodities or brown boxes (government subsidized food). Most have arrangements in place with other manufacturers where higher quality food can be purchased using commodities.” 

To your bullet points…. 
– Yeaaaahhhh….I mentioned that. A few times. It’s not the USDA maximum requirement….it’s the minimum requirement. 
-Repeat first part of previous response…(add long sigh)
-So, because the existing parameters do not require major allergens declared in school food (which they actually do), I’m to accept this as OK because a minimum guideline was reached? What I “claim” kills kids??? Are you kidding me? Anyone with a food allergy, kids or adults, can die because of a serious allergic reaction. I’m not “claiming” anything. This isn’t Mel Gibson starring in “Conspiracy Theory”.  Allergic reactions to food can kill people…ask your dietitian.
-Of course we could serve better food with more money. I will now refer you to the original posts about the subjects of cost equations, taxes, reimbursement ARAMARK’s sec filings and such. (bangs head on desk..points to CJMcD’s response about how to spend taxes)
 
Adam:
Here is another idea – what if we reduced costs? Well – we know food costs cannot be reduced as we discussed above, in fact we’re trying to increase food cost to serve better food. Maybe we can reduce or allocate labor costs to food? How can we do that? Maybe we enforce rules that employ only non-union employees (as we know union dues, etc. costs more) – I am not sure you and your friends will not like this idea as I saw links to union sites in your blog. Another alternative, maybe we employ people that are willing to work for less – maybe retired people that we train, or even non-working moms (or dads) with children at school willing to work for free?

 Here’s an idea…why don’t we reduce (I said reduce, not take away..) the unnecessary fees involved with a FSMC. Because, let’s face it…we know that they can. As I have stated before, I am not against for-profit companies. That would be silly. However, when making a profit, you have to draw a line somewhere. I’ve chosen to draw mine at the “it’s hurting our kids” threshold. Btw, my PTA dues are only six bucks a year…I’m also pretty sure they don’t call themselves a union. Since it’s more of a volunteer thing, I kinda work for free.

 
Adam:

After all, it is to save lives? Right?

 Now you’re just being a cynical food service consultant.

 
With that out of the way…
I did enjoy the article you mentioned: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1982347,00.html I agree, I think they are on to something. Primarily, that their idea of making food that appeals to kids..is to ask them, and then build a menu around real food to their liking. I noticed the chef didn’t mention taking the beans and forming them into an animal shape with binders to keep them together. Nor did she dump corn syrup on them so they would eat them. I notice she’s not dancing around. Her salad isn’t in a colorful bag with a see-through panel. She didn’t throw her hands up and say “Well, fine! Here. Here’s a chicken nugget. I give up.” I didn’t hear her ideas on decorating the cafeteria. I like her solution.
 
 You should show this to your company:)
 
 
 
 

Posted via email from just a mom in mesquite

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3 Comments to “just a mom and the FSMC…part 5”

  1. Wow. So glad my child goes to a private school where we have to send lunch in every day. I’d hate to have her exposed to some of the garbage it sounds like they are serving our kids.

    –KB

  2. Pssstt…. Might not be a good idea to ask the food service company’s dietician about food allergies… I’ve had to educate a couple myself regarding the differences between intolerances and allergies. Although, in either case, I should still get to know what ingredients are in the food products that I am buying for my child.

    • Yeah….that was the point i was trying to make with this guy. I had made a comment about talking to a doctor…he told me the fsmc dieticians were better informed. I was being sarcastic towards him:) Oy.

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