Dried plums or prunes, wrinkles are the pits

Ever since Ronald Reagan pronounced ketchup a vegetable, I’ve been suspicious of nutritional standards for school lunch programs. This may be proven by recent data showing obesity and diabetes rates soaring in American children.

The fact that Jack, Mac and Taco Bell have taken over every corner in every town also may have something to do with it.

For the past year, the federal government has been conducting taste tests at elementary schools on nutritionally enhanced products.

Ordinary fare diluted with healthful produce. Our tax dollars going down the tubes again.

Heading the list is the prune burger. I am not making this up. Bathroom jokes aside, the prune industry has had a tough time selling its undeniably nutritious, but seriously wrinkled fruit. Hence its new, politically correct name: Dried Plums. It was not lost on Sunsweet that the name of its luscious fruit had become a pejorative. As in “prune face” or “the stewed-prune set” (for geriatrics). Shoppers may be swayed, but kids know a prune when they see one.

So the prolific prune, er, dried plum, has become another surplus commodity to be disposed of by our government in creative ways. They are reaping the result of agricultural subsidies run amok. Those very same plums in their natural state, unpitted, unsulphured and unpuckered, were fetching a respectable $3 to $4 per pound at local green grocers last summer. The new 12-ounce package claims its dried plums, The Smart Snack, enhanced with lemon or orange essence, provide fiber and antioxidants, and “may reduce your risk of heart disease and certain cancers.” Tell that to a fifth-grader.

Anyway, just as the government for years unloaded surplus cheese on food programs for the needy, it is now determined to dump-excuse me, incorporate-surplus prunes, raisins, sweet potatoes, asparagus and broccoli into children’s lunches, under the guise of better nutrition.

Actually, Congress is pressuring the USDA to prop up sagging produce prices by buying surpluses and giving them to schools, according to Associated Press reports. Well, whatever works. Prune burgers, made with ground beef and 4 percent prune puree, reportedly contain 40 percent less fat than the all-beef variety, so what’s to lose?

The reviews are mixed.

Taste tests in Los Angeles last year and last week in Washington schools showed kids favored prune burgers over the regular school offering (possibly because they were flame-broiled by the processor and hadn’t languished for hours on a steam table). Barbecue sauce, enhanced with raisins and tomatoes, served with chicken nuggets (have you ever seen nuggets on a chicken? But that’s another story) was reportedly a hit. So were breakfast pancakes made with sweet potato puree.

Other experimental dishes did not delight the young taste buds.

Broccoli-based guacamole was described as gross and yucky. This was a no-brainer. Not because American children are genetically programmed to avoid broccoli. And not because George Bush the Elder irreparably tarnished its image when he said on national TV that he hated the stuff.

Children know that guacamole is supposed to taste like avocado and salsa.

The USDA and the food processors need to understand children’s collective psyche the way mothers do. I’ve successfully smuggled soymilk and tofu into soups, casseroles and desserts. But I never tell a child that a food is healthful, or nutritious, or “good for you.” I tell them, instead, that it’s full of sugar and fat and they may have a little bit only if they eat everything else on their plate.

Or you can take the other tack and appeal to their sense of ghoulishness.

Rename it. Instead of guacamole, the testers could have called theirbroccoli concoction Harry Potter’s Green Goop, and it probably would have been a hit.

Potter’s Prune Porridge, Snow Dog Doo-Doo, Lord of the Onion Rings.

Coming to a school menu near you.

Previous article
Next article
The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

Related Articles



Latest Articles

%d bloggers like this: