When Mystery Meat is More than an Urban Legend

We have taken “mystery meat” to a whole new level.

In case you missed it, students in Hawkins County, Tennessee, were served meat a couple of weeks ago that had been frozen for 6 years. The story would’ve been hard to miss, since it made national news.

I’m pretty sure the old adage, “There’s no such thing as bad publicity” just went out the window.

Apparently, no students got sick after eating it. In reporting the story, ABC News cited the US Department of Agriculture website, saying meat frozen constantly at 0 degrees will always be safe. “Only the quality suffers,” it says.

Yeah, we figured as much, but thanks for clearing it up.

Situations like this make me wonder exactly how the conversation in the freezer went.

“What shall we serve tomorrow?”

“I don’t know. What’s that gray stuff over there?”

“That’s the piece of my wedding cake I’m saving. Remember, I brought it here when my freezer went out at home.”

“How long has that been?”

“Almost 23 years.”

“Well, what’s that stuff over there behind it?”

The world is full if thankless jobs, and the school cafeteria employee is no exception. I remember school lunch being pretty good, though. When I was in first grade it cost a quarter a day. Even at the ripe old age of 6, I thought that was a deal I could live with.

Remember the rolls? The universal love for the school roll is one of the few common threads that ties us together regardless of our place in society. At my school, they put them at the end of the line, and we could pick up all we wanted — especially if no one was looking.

I also loved the pizzas. I was always amazed the way they fit perfectly in the rectangular space in the tray.

If that were the case today, the pizza maker and the tray maker would cut a deal to start making the pizzas round so the school system would have to buy new trays.

To pay for the new trays, the county commission would propose both a property tax and a wheel tax increase, then defeat one, leaving the voters thrilled when only the other one passed. Of course, that could never happen in real life. But, I digress.

Hamburgers were always a once-a-week staple in our school lunch diet. Some of the kids always tried to make us believe it was horse meat. Another urban legend said the burger patties were made from soybeans.

Ironically, I think the idea of soybeans bothered us more. We didn’t have vegans in first grade in 1970. If someone had refused to eat their meat, I guess they would’ve ended up in the principal’s office for a paddling. I cannot even imagine the parent furor at the next school board meeting if the cafeteria people put something called a “veggie burger” on the menu.

On the other hand, I am still skeptical of the infamous chuckwagon steak — the original mystery meat. They were round, breaded patties. And, I have never to this day heard what kind of meat they were made out of. I don’t think the lunchroom ladies knew either.

I do trust, however, that they were younger us first graders.

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