The blogosphere lit up last week with talk of something called “pink slime.” While that might sound like fiction — like a character from the famed cartoon Sponge Bob Square Pants — it’s actually a very real (and very unappetizing) mixture of leftover beef scraps and connective tissue that is ground up with a preservative called ammonium hydroxide (is your mouth watering yet?) which is then further mixed into ground beef. 

Sound gross? Of course; but so do most things that go on at the slaughter house.

But what has people really outraged is that this beef/pink-slime mixture is being shipped off to our nation’s schools to be served up on the lunch line. In fact, a whopping 7 million pounds of beef containing pink slime was just purchased by the USDA. And guess what? It’s headed to your kids’ school.

First, let me just say that I find it hilarious that people are shocked when they find out the school lunch program doesn’t serve children top-of-the-line, super nutritious food. People, it’s cafeteria food — food that for years, for decades, for nearly a century, has been, well, generally recognized as gross.  Plus, these meals are served in the ultimate institutional setting — a government-run kitchen. Want to know what other kitchens are run by the government? Jail kitchens! Enough said.

People should realize that the problem with the school lunch program isn’t pink slime, or potatoes, or that ketchup is considered a vegetable, or vending machines that stock soda or the tragic dearth of kale and carrots on a student’s lunch tray. The problem is much simpler than that: It is the unholy alliance between the USDA and our schools that is creating this problem in the first place. If we want our children to eat healthier school-provided meals, does any rational person believe the answer lies in turning child nutrition over to an already over-burdened federal government? 

Just think about it. Why is our federally run school lunch program failing? Maybe, it’s because the feds have a few billion other things on their hands, you know, like fighting wars, dumping money into green-energy boondoggles, supplying birth control to law students, handing out unemployment checks and food stamps, apologizing to terrorist-sponsoring nations, and so on. 

Gosh, I’m a mom of three kids and I don’t do everything well. I’m juggling a lot and some things just fall through the cracks. The school lunch program is simply falling through the cracks for the federal government. As a result, kids get pink slime.

If we want our kids to eat healthier, we must detangle the federal government from local schools. If school lunch programs were actually put in the control of the local school district, we might see innovation: more local produce, higher-quality meats, and interesting recipes for vegetables courtesy of the school lunch lady (who right now isn’t allowed to introduce her own home recipes to the local kids). We might even see an effort to (gasp!) privatize school cafeterias where competition would help keep things tasting good and local school boards could ensure kids are being given healthy options.

Of course, that hasn’t been the reaction to the “pink slime” controversy. Naturally, the outrage has translated into calls for more federal control over what local schools can serve to kids and, of course, calls to increase funding of the federal school lunch program. In other words, it’s more of the same. 

When the public realizes that government is the problem — not the solution — we might then finally see some improvement in what kids are served at school.