Universal school lunches

By Lucas Zhou, Clarion News Editor

The Tragedy Of the Commons refers to the phenomenon that a shared resource, such as a green pasture set aside for the public will be depleted by the actions of a growing opportunistic majority and too few who come to replenish the source, and so waste and an empty field soon result. This allegory, in some capacity, can be still seen in our school today, especially with the implementation of universal school lunches, in which factors compounded by the district, leading to food waste.

Free school lunches are not a relatively new concept within the SCUSD school district- before the pandemic, many students received a free or reduced lunch but with the new rollout the lunches have become universal.

The average experience and quality of the food were marginally higher than they are today-instead of a set menu, students were free to choose between different choices in cuisines such as Chinese food and burrito bowls made to order. If you were still hungry and wished to get some more food, you were often out of luck.

Things have drastically changed this year. For the first time, the payment system had been abolished, and instead of offering a wide range of options the fare is now a set weekly menu-which is not surprising considering the supply chain woes that came post-pandemic and costs associated with lunches. Seconds-similarly, are more accessible now without a computer system to track people that came through line.

Here we get to the crux of the situation, the double-edged sword, so to speak.

Under the payment system, food wastage was not such a prominent issue. Students paid for their food and more often than not, finished it. Portions were doled out accordingly, and some of the dishes served, such as the roasted chicken sandwiches that used to be served in the grill area in front of the auditorium, were designed to be finished quickly and were relatively light choices. Such was also the Chinese food, which normally consisted of brown rice or noodles and a few pieces of orange chicken.

Under the new system, however, meals have suffered from the issue of being overpacked and accompanied by sides that often than not, are disliked, leading to loads of food, oftentimes sealed and unopened, ending up in the trash can or irresponsibly littered and strewn around campus.

An infamous item that I have personally witnessed go to significant waste this year was a product called the cheese pockets made by the company Wild Mikes, served by the district from September 2021-December 2021 before being replaced with alternatives. It was tasteless without much flavor, the texture can be more placed in the realm of soggy bread mixed in with a hint of real cheese. This cheese pocket was served with the salads, which were already very much packed full with lettuce, dressing and chicken bits, as well as with the chicken alfredo, and it was no wonder why so many students on campus pitched them into the trash can the first chance they got.

This issue could have been prevented by placing a bin near each end line with a sign to place unwanted food there, as well as enforcing the no litter rule. Due to the district’s policy for COVID, and sanitary concerns, however, solutions have been lax to nonexistent, and so the unwanted food continues to pile up higher and higher in trash cans and on the ground, diverting money and resources which are spent cleaning up after students instead of towards essential student programs.

Sometimes when I look at the food wastage my mind flits back to the privilege we enjoy in these times with free school lunches. In a world where some people in other countries have to scavenge through trash cans in order to feed their families, it truly makes things seem trivial in the grand scheme of things, and while we cannot solve the problem fully in our district I do hope that our example inspires others to follow suit.

Wednesday, February 2022, lunch fare: a “popcorn chicken bowl” consisting of presumably frozen pieces of popcorn chicken, mashed potatoes and canned corn, topped off with a packet of Cholula hot sauce. The biscuit served was, if anything, a crumbly and dry hockey puck. Photo by Lucas Zhou, Clarion News Editor.

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