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Martha's lunch v Libby Lunch

A meal that Martha reviewed on May 8. As you can see, the quantity of food was certainly "small." Martha wrote in her post that day,  "The good thing about this blog is Dad understands why I am hungry when I get home."
A wonderful story from a couple days ago hit world news about a nine-year-old elementary-school pupil in Scotland who began a blog about her school lunches that she knew were deficient.

The girl, Martha Payne, told the BBC that when she began her food-review blog, NeverSeconds, the school meals were “a wee bit small and sometimes … not very nice either.” There was often hair in the food and, she added, “You don’t really get much vegetables.”

After her May 8 blogpost (her second one), Martha became a sensation in Great Britain and in the online-food community.  She began getting a hundred-thousand hits on her blog, a hundred+ comments per post and the school began to improve on its meals.  Martha continues to write her blog for a now-vast readership that in recent days has gotten worldwide attention. NeverSeconds got a million hits on May 23! Martha Payne is now a bigger celebrity than Martha Stewart.  And young Martha is a terrific and kindly writer -- with ways of putting words together in a charming Scottish manner that delights this American reader.  Read Martha's brilliant blog, y'all:  NeverSeconds.

I must add -- lest Martha not forgive me -- to give credit to the schoolgirl's dutiful dad.  When pop got evidence of the slight and not-altogether-nice meals his daughter was putting up with, he sprang into action -- going to the school council and getting them to see the meals as Martha saw and experienced them. Improvements came quickly. Now pupils can have unlimited servings of fruit, vegetables and bread that will come with every meal.

I like how the Yahoo website "Shine" summed up the Martha Payne effect:
As much impact as policy makers and advocates, like the First Lady, have had on improving school lunches, student voices have been largely absent from the debate. They are, after all, the ones eating the food.

Martha's blog makes a strong argument not only for improved nutrition, but tastier healthy options.
Libby Lunches

And now let us contrast Martha's great good effect on health and good eating in Scotland with the catastrophe that is the Libby effect on lunches at that Danfur on the American River, the ironically named Loaves & Fishes.  [Libby, by the way, for the uninitiated, is L&F's CEO.]

The name "Loaves & Fishes" as all you Christians know, comes from the tale in each of the synoptic books of the New Testament about Jesus somehow turning a few loaves of bread and flopping fish into a meal to hardily feed thousands.  How He did it, and whether there were adequate vegetables, I don't think the Bible tells us.  But it was a miracle of a meal, and there were leftovers besides! [See Matthew: 14:13-20 and Mark 6:31-48 and Luke 9:12-18 and John 6:1-15]

The miracle at Loaves & Fishes, Sacramento's homeless-services facility, is how they achieve so very little with so much money.  But I think the answer is leadership, or, really, lack thereof of the competent, compassionate variety.

There is a somewhat-new head chef at Loaves, and I know not her impact on meals at the homeless-help facility.  But the history before this new person is not good.  Meals had been larded with fat and sugar and salt and vegetables were typically inadequate.  Many meals at Loaves achieved a kind of Guinness Book World Record for disgustingness.  There is the tale of the bin of black bananas that nobody would touch the contents of.  The bin of bananas came back day after day without people wanting any of the fruit.  The bananas were midnight black and getting ever darker and more shrivelled day after day until they had these white specks on them indicating they were being invaded by microscopic agents to further their advanced condition of rot.

Then there is the frozen-meat sandwiches story.  The kitchen staff failed to bring out enough food, so they served late-in-the-mealtime eaters bread with meat on it that was hard as a rock and cold as ice.  The meat was quite literally frozen solid.  It can have been chipped directly from a glazier.  I believe it was Libby herself who told those (or at least one person) complaining that they were lucky to get anything.  They should be grateful, it's better than a stick in the eye. [Note:  For some people, vittles at Loaves is their only meal of the day.]

On July 24, 2010, I wrote a review of the meal that day, and was barred for all time from the Loaves & Fishes facility the next day.  My review, as first posted, appears here:  "Lunch today at Loaves & Fishes" or you can read it, below.

It is lucky that Martha Payne isn't a pupil at the Mustard Seed school for homeless children at Loaves & Fishes.  I have no doubt that Libby -- a character straight out of Oliver Twist -- would have tossed her out of the school for the temerity of actually posting anything unfriendly about the food that is served.  Afterall, Libby doesn't put up with the opinions of people who actually have to eat the food.

Lunch today at Loaves & Fishes
July 24, 2010

Apple & Eve white grape juice1.0 x Custom Food (125g)
Bologna, pork4.0 x 1 slice, medium (4-1/2" dia x 1/8" thick) (1 oz) (28g)
Bread, wheat2.0 x 1 slice (25g)
Cheese, cheddar1.0 x 1 slice (1 oz) (28g)
Cheetos Crunchy cheese-flavored snacks1.0 x Custom Food (18g)
Cracker Jack1.0 x Custom Food (28g)
Crackers, cheese, sandwich-type with peanut butter filling
1.0 x 6 cracker (39g)
Mustard, prepared, yellow1.0 x 1 tsp or 1 packet (5g)
Peaches, canned, extra light syrup, solids and liquids4.0 x 1 ounce (28g)
When I went for lunch, today, at Loaves & Fishes, I, like everyone, was given a sack lunch.

I cannot say that all lunches distributed were the same, but very most likely all were the same or very similar to what I received, which was the following:
  • A hotdog bun
  • Four slices of ham-based bologna
  • A slice of processed cheddar cheese
  • Two 11 oz bottles of water
  • A 1-oz box of Cracker Jack
  • 1/4-cup container of peach-and-pear chunks
  • 1.38-oz package of Austin Cheese Crackers with Peanut Butter
  • 5/8-oz package off Cheetos Crunchy cheese-flavored snacks
  • 4.23 fl oz waxed bottle-box of Apple&Eve White Grape juice
  • a small packet of yellow mustard
I thought it would be interesting to use this lunch as a first (unofficial) instance of testing the nutrition of what Loaves & Fishes serves poor people. It was my contention two years ago that what was served was so unhealthy, it bordered on criminal. Things have since gotten better, but it is still not a healthful place for people, in my opinion. And, indeed, nobody knows how healthy/unhealthy the food is because the nonprofit specifically refuses government funds in order not to have its activities overseen.

The table [above right] shows how I 'entered' the meal. Where it says "custom food," it means I entered the item off the nutrition information cited on the package.

Here: you can see SPECIFICALLY what I entered and the evaluation of the meal at

The lunch had 1066 calories, which is approximately half what you should eat in a day.  There were 51 grams of fat, which is 79% of the daily allowance.  There were 17 grams of saturated fat, which is 86% of the daily allowance.

Cholesterol, carbohydrates and fiber were good; about what you should get from a meal. But it had 98% of the salt one should consume in a day, and salt is something that has recently been shown to be something we should all cut way, way back on.

Basically, it is a terrible meal.  It is understandable that sack lunches are likely to be less nutritious than hot lunches, but this lunch was extraordinarily bad, in a health awareness sense. For a homeless person it is a meal from hell.


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