Sunday, October 01, 2006

School Food Not Really So Bad, Maybe

Few things are as maligned on a daily basis as much as school cafeteria food. It doesn’t matter what school or grade level, from first grade through college, cafeteria food is equated with everything from mystery meat to toxic waste.

On one episode of the Simpsons, little Lisa, bleeding heart that she is, decided she was no longer going to eat meat. Upon entering the cafeteria at her school, she asked the serving lady if each item she had on her plate had meat in it. The lady said yes to everything. “Does the bread have meat in it,” she asked. “Yes,” was the reply.

In desperation, Lisa finally asked her, “Is there anything that doesn’t have meat in it?” The grumpy serving line lady quipped, “You might try the meatloaf. It doesn’t have much meat in it.”

From late night talk show hosts to everyday students, cafeteria food is disparaged. Remember when Ronald Reagan wanted to include ketchup as a vegetable? Comedians had a field day with that one.

I, on the other hand, am not nearly so critical. Although I can’t say I am a big fan, I will admit that I have been served up several meals at various school cafeterias that were pretty darn delicious.

One example is the broccoli and cheese side dish they serve once in awhile at the school where I teach. It is one of the few places that cooks broccoli the way I like it, nice and soft.

When I was in first grade at Edinburgh I ate in the cafeteria for the first time. I took one bite of the mixed veggies and almost gagged. I boycotted the place until at least the third grade. After that, I don’t remember the food being so bad.

I especially liked the bread and butter sandwiches. They served them everyday. The serving ladies would always ask, “How many breads?” You could get between one and four sandwich triangles. I always got four.

No matter what else was being served, I could always count on those delicious sandwiches made from bread that was oh-so-soft, spread thinly with softened, but not melted, butter.

In college, we called our cafeteria Saga, because it was run by Saga Food Services. I think they still refer to it as Saga at Franklin College. That’s where my daughter is a junior; she complains often about the cafeteria food.

My biggest complaint, as I recall, was that their chocolate pudding was always lumpy. And I hated their eggplant dish. Other than that, everything was pretty good.

When I was attending school, they served food on real dishes, although plastic. We had to take our plates to the scrapers, students who scraped plates for free lunches.

Today, at my school, there are no real dishes. Everything is disposable, even the trays. Students just throw them away when they’re finished. And every kid gets a free lunch, although it costs me three bucks.

Going from a student in elementary school to high school to college and graduate school and then becoming a teacher, I’ve had to endure, or enjoy, school cafeteria food for most of my life.

One might think I would avoid the commercial cafeterias like MCL or Jonathan Byrd. But I can’t help it; I like what they serve most of the time. If you like your veggies overcooked and mushy and your meat filled with mystery filler, the cafeteria is the place to eat.

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