Is your school cafeteria serving the 26 ingredient school lunch burger?
Thiamine mononitrate, disodium inosinate, pyridoxine hydrochloride…
Why are these hard-to-pronounce ingredients added to everything from a burger served in schools to veggie burgers in the frozen food aisle of the grocery store?
It turns out the answers are as varied as the ingredients.
But as we yearn to know what’s in our food and how it’s made, these kinds of ingredients with unfamiliar names make people suspicious.
“For me, it’s just a huge red flag,” says Ryan Lonnett, a parent of children in Fairfax County, Va., schools. He’s an advocate with the group Real Food For Kids.
When he looks at the ingredient list of the burger served in his kids’ school cafeteria, he says things like disodium inosinate stand out.
“Since I don’t know what it is, I’d rather not put it in my body,” Lonnett says.
RFFK wants Fairfax County schools to phase out or reformulate processed foods such as a grilled cheese served in a bag, a jumbo turkey frank and a cheese quesadilla. The group also wants the county to purchase new school cafeteria kitchen equipment and begin preparing some foods from scratch.
“We now have 36 school [parent teacher associations] that have signed a resolution that encourages the county to make changes,” says JoAnne Hammermaster, head of RFFK.
Making the transition is not as simple as it may sound. Listen to my story on Morning Edition to learn why.
Fairfax County Public Schools has decided to phase out the 26-ingredient burger. Penny McConnell, who directs the county’s Office of Food and Nutrition Services, says she will replace it with an alternative frozen patty made of 100 percent beef. The change could come as soon as mid-April.
But McConnell says she doesn’t have the school cafeteria kitchen equipment, the space or the labor force to return to scratch cooking in schools.
Allison Aubrey is a correspondent for NPR News.
Focusing on stories related to food, nutrition, and health, Aubrey’s stories can be heard on NPR’s newsmagazines including Morning Editionand All Things Considered. She is the host of the NPR video series Tiny Desk Kitchen and contributes to Shots, NPR’s health blog.