Search Chasing Jessie

Monday, October 7, 2013

Going Back to School

School Food Service:  Week 29 - Memphis City Schools

Who remembers what it is like to be less than 10 years old?  What about in high school?  How did you respond in ‘social interactions’?  What did you like to eat?  When did you like to eat?  How much?

What an interesting change of pace to transition from medical maladies to school food service this week!  For one week my mind reverted to sophomoric ideologies and preferences; it was tougher than I remembered!  One day I worked as a Lunch Lady at an elementary school (what fun!), and one day at a high school (a bit nerve-wracking!).  Going back to elementary school was so much fun!  Not only were the cafeteria workers friendly and welcoming, the kids were hysterical.  I walked around talking to them about their favorite foods, favorite snacks, encouraging each to try different foods on their trays… generally forming a personal Inquisitorial Committee.  Before leaving the cafeteria, several kids insisted on sharing their love with me, passing me through lots of hugs, and “I hope you come back!” salutations.  The high schoolers, on the other hand, were not nearly as lovely.  It did not take long for me to read through the words and body language of the kids, recalling the constant turbulence of emotions.  I left that afternoon SO thankful of my age and perspective.  (That was a first; I usually lie about my age! J)

On other (non- lunch lady!) days, I was bombarded trying to understand the constantly changing school lunch regulations, counting adequate grain servings, and the baffling breakfast conundrum of how a sausage could be classified as a grain.  It finally came together as I put dissected politics, nutrition, and federal subsidies…  (I'll hold back my thougths on agricultural subsidies...)

Memphis City Schools, now known as the Unified School District, has a central kitchen that prepares meals for >189 schools in the district, with ~90% of kids receiving free/reduced lunch, translating to several hundred thousand mouths to feed per meal.  Talk about enormity!  I saw a 300 gallon steam-jacketed kettles, which was preparing jambalaya prepared with 2,000-3,000 #10 cans of diced tomatoes!  (A #10 can holds 12 cups.)  This two-story kettle was flanked by a 200 gallon kettle and a 100 gallon kettle!  Beside these vats, there was a 1000 lb oven tank that could hold ~140 pork roasts!  I have never seen such large pieces of cooking equipment, and couldn't help but marvel at the vastness.  In this size food production, food safety is an enormous concern.  One manager and staff are exclusively employed to monitor food safety, HACCP, and health inspections.

There are a lot of discussion about the quality of school meals, and I understand the concern.  It did not take me long to realize that this area of concern differs enormously between school districts, and even more so, between schools in the same district.  While much of the main meal/side production occurs at the Memphis Centralized kitchen, each school has a great deal of leeway in food offerings.  High schoolers routinely have the choice a full meal tray, or simply choosing a (baked) fried chicken sandwich and milk – both choices acceptable on the free plan at one high school… (inappropriately counting grains, vegetables, etc).  While many schools overuse convenience items, there are frequently many healthy (ish) items to choose.  In addition, I was amazed by the number of kids, in both elementary and high school, that brought small and full-size bags of hot fries and chips to the cafeteria.  In my humble opinion, if the child repeatedly makes bad food choices, or repeatedly brings bags of hot fries and chips as a meal, this is not the fault of the school system’s offerings.  This is parental responsibility gone wrong.  (Stepping off Soap Box now)
My Lunch Lady partner, Jackie & I, back in high school!

"My favorite things in life don't cost any money.
It's really clear that the most precious resource we all have is time."
Steve Jobs

1 comment:

  1. OMG yes the sausage as a grain!! And remember our story about the cookies/cookie dough? :) Good times.