"Too many carbohydrates, said the fat youngster. "Too burnt," said a thin one.
"Crawling," said the ringleader of the pupils at the Hungerford Park Elementary School in Rockville in describing the school lunches there.
"Like, it's alive," added 11-year-old Billy Charman when a puzzled reporter couldn't figure out what that meant. "The hamburgers, like, they'll bite you."
The pupils were giving Agriculture Secretary Bob Bergland, who paid their school a surprise noontime visit, their uninhibited evaluations of the school cafeteria meals they are served every day.
The Secretary, who has had his share of banquet circuit chicken-a-la-king dinners, gamely attacked the school's offering of a medium-warm, slightly burnt, toasted cheese and ham sandwich while television lights blazed andcameras caught every mouthful. All the while dozens of sixth graders pressed in on him airing their complaints against the food.
The verdict? About as good a meal as he gets at the Department of Agriculture, Bergland said. And Bergland hasn't been too complimentary about USDA's cafeterias in the past (although he said his complaints there have brought some improvements).
Last Spring the Secretary was asked to see firsthand why the parents and children were complaining about the cafeteria lunches even though he has not authority to change the type of food served at the local level. Hungerford was chosen by a reporter for the Montgomery Journal newspaper who has written a series of articles critical of school lunches.
The parents have been working since July to convince school officials that the meals should be prepared at the school rather than elsewhere. Currently, under the so-called satellite feeding program, the food served in the cafeteria is prepared and frozen hundreds of miles away and then distributed to the school where it is heated up.
So far, the parents' effort have been unsuccessful, despite their diligent efforts to follow "the whole mickey mouse routine" of bureaucracy, according to school principal Ben Marlin.
Next Tuesday, the parents will argue their case before the county Board of Education, and some of them, including PTA president Susan Blick, are afraid board members will think the Bergland visit was set up to pressure them into granting the parents' request. Blick was not optimistic about the parents' chances before the visit to begin with.
The gripes the pupils brought to Bergland yesterday are also contained in a position they have been circulating. "We urge you," it says in grown up language, "to resurrect the hot lunch program in the Hungerford Park cafeteria. With the satellite program we now have no idea where our next meal comes from."
Even principal Marlin has signed it.
The petition circulator. Bill Chartman says he wrote it all by himself. "My mother just typed it," he said.
It's not that the youngsters dislike all the meals. The pizza is actually good enough so that many, who ordinarily "brown bag" it buy lunch that day. But the cole slaw and bananas that accompnay it usually get thrown away.
School lunch participation on most days is extremely low. Only about 200 of the 500 children buy their lunches. And of the 200, half are eating free or reduced price meals.
Not that the brown baggers' meals scope heavily in the nutrition department either almost every lunch pail has either candy, corn chips and or potato chips.Bologna sandwiches abound.
Nonetheless much of the school cafeteria served lunches ends up in the trash cans and the Secretary yesterday threw away plenty of his lunch, too.
Bergland blamed the reporters, however, for he uneaten peanuts, carrot sticks, canned pears and the lowfat chocolate milk.
"How did you expect me to finish when you didn't give me a chance to eat?" he asked.