While I was reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver, I was intrigued by what Camille Kingsolver (Barbara’s daughter) had to say in one of her letters. At the end of chapter 14, Camille writes about lunch in junior high school and how most people would rather not know how their food lived before it became food. I actually wanted to learn more about what Camille had to say. My mom, who works as a cafeteria worker at my middle school, asked her boss, Lisa, if I could interview her. I chose to interview Lisa, because I was interested in what she had to say about what schools are feeding their students. I also wanted to learn where the food is coming from and how it is prepared. Upon agreeing to meet for an interview, the interview took place at Lisa’s house. The atmosphere was very Fall-like. Her house was decorated for Halloween, but not like a haunted house, there were cute little hand-made crafts that she said her “two grandsons made”.
After small chat about how lovely her home was, I started the interview off by asking, “How did you get into working with food for the school?”
She replied, “I started working for the school 20 years ago. I didn’t go to any school after high school so being a cafeteria worker was just a part time job for a little extra cash, plus the work schedule worked out perfectly with my children’s schedules.” Her children would have been six and ten when she started working. “I was home to help them get ready for school and make sure they didn’t miss the school bus and was home waiting for them to get off the bus.” She paused, reminiscing about times when the bus driver was early and her kids actually did miss the bus. “I had enough time to drive them to school before work started…and that happened a lot,” she explained, laughing at old memories.
The Food in Our Lunches
“Where do you get the food from?” was my next question.
“Different food vendors supply the food.” She explained one of the food vendors where the school gets the food from-Feesers, a foodservice from Harrisburg. “Unfortunately,” continued Lisa, “it comes in frozen and not fresh. We can’t prepare all that food fresh for all those students in such short amount of time.” Lisa paused to take a drink from her tall glass of ice water. Lisa was kind enough to offer me one too before the interview started. “Plus it just isn’t in our budget to prepare gourmet meals for them,” Lisa added.
“Now, I understand the first lady, Michelle Obama wanted to overcome childhood obesity. She wanted school lunches to serve more healthy food. How is that working out?”
Lisa shifted in her seat, trying to find a new comfortable position, taking her time to think about the question. “We are serving more fruits and vegetables,” she answered. “We’ve substituted white bread for wheat. And we also serve more diet teas and reduced milk,” added Lisa.
Yes, I remember noticing all of those changes a few years ago in my high school cafeteria. I remember hating all those changes and started packing my own lunch. School lunches for me weren’t awful, I thought they tasted pretty decent but once they changed the bread to wheat, I couldn’t eat it. I had always thought that the wheat buns had ruined the hamburgers.
“Are the fruits and vegetables organic?” I asked next.
“No they are not,” Lisa replied, with a tone of defeat. “They also come from food vendors. The government also provides our food.” She explained that the government acts as another food vendor, contributing food for various schools around the region. She also adds that the foodservices provide fresh food.
Wanting to know about her lifestyle and how she eats, I asked Lisa, “how do you feel about organic foods?”
Before answering me, Lisa took a drink of her water. She took her time answering, as if to choose her words carefully, “Organic food is better and healthier, I understand that… but I don’t eat organic-it’s too expensive.”
I told her that I could relate. “I don’t eat organic either.” Next, I asked her if she had a garden.
She seemed ecstatic by my question and led me out the back door into her little garden. She pointed out all the vegetables she had growing. First, she pointed out the green peppers, then the zucchini, tomatoes then cucumbers. From there, we had a lively conversation about her garden. I told her that her garden was very similar to my mom’s garden. She went on telling me how she gets so many tomatoes and zucchini. “They just won’t stop growing!” She told me with a laugh. I told her the same about my mom’s garden that we have to give the zucchini and tomatoes away to friends and neighbors. “And not to mention, I am the only on in the family who eats tomatoes,” she added with a laugh. No kidding, I thought aloud. My mom is the only one in my family who eats tomatoes too. “Wow, what a small world,” Lisa remarked. Yes, what a small world indeed, I thought.