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The Facebook food photo

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By Optic Editorial Board

Oh the power of today’s social media. Just ask Las Vegas City Schools Superintendent Sheryl McNellis-Martinez and her cafeteria staffs — they’ve had a couple of rounds of in-your-face Facebook postings that make their work look quite unappetizing and unsanitary these days.

Of course, appearances can be deceiving — especially on Facebook, where distortions and Photoshop often go hand-in-hand — so we don’t want to be too quick to judge the district too harshly regarding its meals. There are extenuating circumstances that should be considered before condemning the district’s food services.

The most obvious circumstance is money. It’s no secret that the district’s budget is tight, so it should be of no surprise that food is being purchased on the cheap.

That’s why that disgusting Facebook photo of a Memorial Middle School food tray is what it is: The processed ham was undoubtedly cheaper than fresh meat; green beans and mashed-up sweet potatoes, extracted from cans, were low-cost commodities; and half an apple was, well, twice as cheap as a whole one. Indeed, the most expensive part of the meal might have been the package of graham crackers — which might also have been the only thing on the tray that a lot of the kids actually ate.

So at least part of the blame lies with the enormous cost of feeding thousands of kids each day, which leads district officials to seek out less expensive options. And unfortunately, those cheaper options are almost always processed foods.

Of course that doesn’t excuse the district for placing such an unappetizing tray of food in front of its kids. Especially in light of the fact that, not so long ago, district officials gave lip service to the idea of providing fresher, healthier foods this school year. The chorus of support was harmonious, but we don’t remember any allocation of money to go with it. Seems it went the way of the “unfunded mandate,” that federal invention that may feed political diets even if it doesn’t amount to a hill of beans.

Of course, the Facebook food photo isn’t the only problem that slapped the district in the face. Seems another image, of a rodent, allegedly climbing the wall outside the MMS cafeteria, has added to the parental outcry. It led to calls to the Environment Department, which sent an inspector, who cited the school for its rodent problem. (To the district’s credit, corrective action was immediately taken.)

This chain of events led to a request from the district’s superintendent: When parents see issues that need to be addressed, she said, please contact the district directly rather than posting it on a social media website.

That’s a reasonable, but unrealistic, request. It might be best to go through the traditional channels, but in this day and age, a lot of people turn first to sites like Facebook and YouTube.

That’s a reality that McNellis-Martinez must live with. Meanwhile, she’d be well advised to make good on that old talk about healthier and fresher meals — before the next bit of ugliness is posted.