Monday, February 04, 2008

Don't Eat The Burritos

A few nights ago I was watching the evening news, and sandwiched in between the stories about Britney Spears' current meltdown and the latest fad diet (it's tea!) was a hidden-camera report about a California slaughterhouse being investigated for using inhumane methods to get sick cattle past inspectors. (Aside from being carriers of E. coli and salmonella, downed cattle may signal the presence of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, commonly known as mad cow disease.) The footage was horrible to watch: electric prods being used to get ailing animals on their feet, cattle being pulled by chains and being poked and dragged by forklifts.

But the part of the story that freaked me out the most was the little snippet at the end that said the operation under investigation, Westland Meat Co., was a major supplier of meat to school cafeterias across the country.

Who knew it would take a story on the 11 o'clock news to get me off my lazy behind and vow to make my kids lunches everyday for here on out?

I've confessed before about my aversion to the tedium that is the brown bag lunch. The making of the sandwiches! The filling of the snack bags with grapes and pretzels! Add to that the careful consideration of the protein/carb balance, that daily dilemma of whether or not to include fruit along with a juice box, and do Cheez-Its count as a serving of dairy?

For only a dollar, the lure of the school lunch is just too good to pass up, not to mention the extra twelve minutes of sleep it buys me in the morning.

But now? I have forbid my girls from buying any food items from the school cafeteria, unless it's so highly processed and artificial that it couldn't possibly contain any actual food substance from Westland Meat Co. Which means the only times they're allowed to buy anything is if the cafeteria is serving Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, which everyone knows is made out of styrofoam and orange crayons.

The thing that I find slightly alarming is that no formal announcement has been made by our school district or by the U.S. Dept of Education about the crisis, or what the risk is to our children. What toxins were lurking in that cup of spaghetti? And along with being completely dried-out and tasteless, could that hamburger my kid ate last week make her sick?

Seeing as my girls have probably eaten their weight in corn dogs from the school cafeteria, you can understand my concern.

Aside from three short paragraphs on the state education department's website, I haven't seen a statement from our local superintendent of schools or any flyers or brochures distributed to parents addressing the subject. It also seems to have slipped under the parent-grapevine radar, which is interesting considering that a head lice infestation in a single child usually triggers a panic in every school within a twenty-mile radius.

The alert issued from the California Department of Education says they "recommend that agencies not use any processed end-products containing beef pending further instructions." It doesn't mention how much of the meat they believe was from these "downer" cows, or exactly which school menu items may have been affected.

Although, oddly enough, an article in the L.A. Times reveals that the ban doesn't include breakfast burritos.

Because as we all know, wrapping infected meat inside a tortilla makes it totally safe to eat.

So, this is what I'm doing. I've already fired off a letter to my local superintendent asking for some answers. But I'm also going to send a letter to Margaret Spellings, the U.S. Secretary of Education and I'm going to cc it to some other appropriate education officials. I'd like them to take a break from "No Child Left Behind" and move on to "No Meatball Left Unturned."

I'm trying to add as many names of concerned parents as I can to the letter, so if you want to be a part of it, please leave your name and whether you're a parent, teacher or administrator, along with your school district in the comments. If you don't want to leave it there, then email me here. There's strength in numbers, and maybe it'll get us some answers. Because I'm tired of laying awake at night wondering, "Where's The Beef?"

And in the meantime? Don't let them eat the burritos.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

tags: | | |

Pin It


  1. As upsetting as this news is, when I heard this story on NPR Saturday, I had to laugh when the reporter concluded, "it gives a whole new meaning to the term, 'mystery meat.'"

    Yeah. I'm making my kid a turkey sandwich right now.

  2. What's especially disturbing is that the meat is all mixed together - especially in fast food - so one hamburger could have meat from dozens of cows. Therefore, if one of those cows has mad cow disease, it's going to get in a lot more burgers than you can make out of one cow. The processing practices will spread it around.

    Read "Fast Food Nation" - you may never eat again.

  3. Okay, thanks for freaking me out, now that I just sent the little ones off to school with their lunch money.

    Add me to your petition lady! I'll email you my info.

  4. I totally agree with you, it's probably good we don't know what goes in in the slaughterhouses. But I also think it's proper to look at he actual risks (I know I'm really boring.....) Billions of people eat meat every day and a handful have died from mad cow disease. Meat is very safe. Even if the company would mix liquid lead and arsenic in their meat, it would still be far safer than driving your kids to school.

    I really like meat but have actually thought about trying a vegetarian diet for a couple of months. just to see what it feels like.

  5. Add my grandmotherly name to the list. My granddaughter goes to Larchmont Charter.

    The thing that's so flippin' freaky about BSE is that it's ground meat that is always targeted and can I remember why? Well, no, but I remembered the ground meat part.

    Linda Ilsley
    Topanga is the school district, but does it count if I don't have a kid there? I'm conflicted. I want to be on the list of freaked out people, but can't tell if qualify or not.

  6. So your post made me nauseous, but laugh out loud at the same time.

    I have a ways to go before I have to worry about school lunches, but sign me up anyways. If they start now, maybe it will be cleaned up by the time mine start school.


  7. man, I practically beg 2 of them to buy, to no's even free in middle school...beat that.
    At least Tessa can't get enough of the hairnet cuisine, my easy child. She's making her lunch for tomorrow as we speak, might be the first time this year.


    have you tried contacting wendy gruel? she's been very helpful whenever our school or neighborhood has had issues. She, or someone in her office, pat davenport... may be able to at least help you track down some real information about who, in fact, supplies the beef to our lausd schools specifically.

    thanks for the heads up...I have no worries, haven't eaten beef since I was 15...but I'm surrounded by carnivores in this house.

  8. We're on the 'only buying school lunch once a week' plan in our house. And because of the Bee's love of the chicken finger, I'm not too worried about this recall.

    But it's pretty ridiculous that the government is not saying anything about it.

  9. I saw this tape and receive emails from the Humane Society (from the time I used to be a vegetarian.) It made me sad, sick and inhumane as a meat eater.

    I'm having trouble going back to a no meat diet when there are so many tasty filets out there.

    Yep, I'll probably be the first to get Mad Cow.

  10. I was only half-listening, but I heard on NPR this morning that the schools are now getting their meat from other sources.
    You really want to get grossed out, watch/read Fast Food Nation. You'll never look at a Big Mac the same way again!

  11. Good for you. I've heard that politicians and officials pay more attention to hand-written letters than emails (the idea that you put more time into it and spent a whole 41 cents to mail it gives it more weight), so maybe follow up your email with a fancy-pants letter (ketchup stains, I hear, are also acceptable).
    I think that there would be a lot more vegetarians in this country if we all had to watch videos like that.

  12. Yeah, if this news isn't enough to make vegetarianism jump to the top of your list, I don't know what would be! ;-)

  13. Good for you for doing something about it! There are so many disconcerting things out there that it sometimes seems hard to pick our battles. This is a good and practical one. Power to the peeps!

  14. I am in Australia, so no free or school lunches here.

    Just to throw a fly in the hamburger. You don't know how long the food has been stored in the freezers..... could be YEARS before it is actually served.

    Sorry, just sayin'

  15. Our 5th graders conducted a school-wide poll asking kids whether they'd ever barfed after eating the fish sticks. The number was not insignificant.

    There is very little in that cafeteria that I can stand letting my son buy. Luckily, my husband makes the lunches!

  16. That just settles it, my kids are getting beah burritos for as long as I can take it. It's getting mighty scary out there.

  17. Thanks for the tip on using tortillas as an antidote to disease-ridden food. I have adapted my diet accordingly and seem to be losing a lot of weight ... and bleeding from the eyes.

  18. It makes you want to homeschool your children. Well, almost.


Related Posts with Thumbnails