Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Lunch Duty

I volunteered for cafeteria duty at J's kindergarten on her birthday. Seeing my deer in the headlights look, other parents and teachers came over to show me how I could help. There were little packets of milk and juice to open, silverware and napkins to hand out but to ensure the kids finished everything on their plate was not part of my brief or anyone else's for that matter.

So at the end of lunch break, a huge mountain of food made of pizzas, fruit with whipped cream topping, granola bars, juice and sausages formed in the trash bin. On an average every third child was throwing away more than half of what they had either brought or bought ( though sometimes the difference was hard to tell) for lunch. That the teachers who were monitoring them said nothing of the waste was simply astounding to me.

Here was opportunity to teach these impressionable young children about conservation, living green, sharing the planet's meager resources - the basic math of waste at least - as in how many children dying of starvation could feed on the food in that trash pile and get a chance at life. No one there would know or understand how my Indian soul grieved that afternoon.

J knows not to waste anything thanks to my belaboring the point to death with her. But there are no reinforcing messages coming forth from any other authority figures. Whereas, she has used the same box of crayons for the first five years of her life, her kindergarten supplies list needs her to have a dozen pencils for an academic year. As much as I resented the idea, I had to acquiesce.

It will be increasingly difficult for me to advocate a Spartan existence amid such excess and wastage.


SFGary said...

The incredible waste generated in this country never ceases to amaze me even after all the years I've been here. The other things that peeve me are the wasteful product packaging, useless 4 color glossy newspaper inserts and not least of all, stupid cat food commercials...

ggop said...

Saw the links you gave from slate. You may enjoy the article on Chef Ann Cooper in the New Yorker or sfgate (she's revamping the Berkeley school lunch system)
The first few weeks had mountains of food going waste - even though they were made from fresh produce, high quality artisan bakeries.
Thanks for sharing your experience in the cafeteria.

Priyamvada_K said...

I hear you. Part of it is the ultra-short lunch breaks for these little ones. My daughter gets 30 mins, including time to form a line, come to cafeteria when its her class' turn and choose a place to sit. Then she needs to gobble up the lunch in 20 mins, which IMO is unrealistic for little ones who like to unwind, chat a bit etc.

Giving them a more realistic break (like 45 mins) may reduce food wastage. They also will take time to chew and not gobble.

P.S: My Indian soul cringes too, seeing perfectly good food getting wasted. I smiled at your trying to reinforce this point with J.

Heartcrossings said...

SFG - I try to use and reuse every scrap of paper that comes in the mail but its fighting a losing battle.

ggop - Thanks for the recommendation. I read about Ann Cooper and love what she is trying to do. Hopefully more people will think her way.

Priya - No wonder J brings back half of her snack each day. I pack her small portions to begin with. Totally agree about longer lunch hours so the kids can enjoy their meals without being rushed.