Maude Perdue taught children to eat their rutabagas by serving a pretty plate of food.
She wouldn't understand a high-tech system where Fijitsu palm readers scan students' palms so that federal standards are met and a few seconds is saved in the cafeteria line.
A process used for two years in the upper grades is spreading to 21 Muscogee County elementary schools. Children can hold their hands over a black box that scans their palms and links it to their students meal account. Participation is voluntary.
Cafeterias have always served entrees that are laughingly referred to as mystery meats, but now the mystery becomes the use of a palm print that is supposed to be as unique as a fingerprint.
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This method of paying would be mysterious to Perdue, the matriarch of the local school lunch program. Lunches cost a nickel when she cooked meals at home and took them to a primitive cafeteria on a school bus. Grade school lunches today cost $2.10, up 5 cents from a year ago. Parents can create online accounts and pay for them in advance.
School lunches began in 1938 at the old Tillinghurst Elementary School. Perdue had a two-burner stove, three medium pots, two zinc tubs and 75 plates. Kids brought cups and forks from home.
Her plan was simple.
"If you put out a pretty plate, the kids will eat everything on it," said Perdue, who prepared lunches for 48 years at five different schools.
A member of the Georgia Food Service Hall of Fame, she helped Sen. Richard B. Russell of Georgia pass the federal school lunch bill in 1946. It replaced a community lunch program that didn't fund the cost of building cafeterias or staffing.
Russell, a former governor of Georgia, had firsthand knowledge of hungry children and proposed a program that would safeguard their health. He also believed that students with a full belly learned more. Since then, the program has become a tangled bureaucratic web involving officials at every level. Even the busybody first lady of the United States cooks up opinions.
Nutrition mandates force cafeteria ladies to turn out meals that startle young people's taste buds and inspire them to ask their parents to pack a lunch for them. So instead of palm prints, wouldn't it be wise to go back to Maude Perdue's pretty plates?
-- Richard Hyatt is an independent correspondent. Reach him at hyatt31906 @knology.net.