This was one of those weeks when you are forced to eat your lunch while walking to another meeting and when you spend most of the day having to go to the bathroom, but can never quite find the time for relief. On Tuesday I had a few extra minutes during the seventh grade lunch to steal down to the cafeteria and buy myself some milk. I'd been wanting to do this for a few weeks, just to get the experience of waiting in line, to see what kids chose for lunch, and to develop a fresh opinion of the milk that appears on millions of styrofoam trays around the country each day.
I grabbed two quarters from my wallet, remembering that milk cost 35 cents when I was in school and assuming that 50 cents would cover the cost of inflation. I've never been a fan of chocolate milk, but once I reached the counter, I chose chocolate over the plain and strawberry milks because I thought I could tolerate drinking it, and wanted to know what the ingredients were. High fructose corn syrup?
"65 cents please m'am," Maria the cafeteria worker told me. My face burned with embarrassment as I put the milk back and mumbled something about being right back. By the time I got back to the cafeteria, an extra quarter in hand, the black gates were already pulled across the lunch line entrance and the kids were no where in sight. A few lunch ladies sat off to the side eating their own lunches, but I didn't want to bother them, so I trudged back to my office to eat the cheese and tomato pita sandwich and nectarine that I had brought with me for lunch that day.
I did not find another opportunity to buy milk this week, and obviously I did not find the time to research milk. So y'all will have to stay tuned on the milk issue. Again.
In other news this week ...
Staff members began sharing very touching stories about their roles as community leaders and role models for under-served youth, referencing their own personal struggles and some even teared up. All I could think about was my conflict with Joe the previous week and I was wholly unable to think of something meaningful that did not relate to food. My heart beat faster and faster and I know that my cheeks were glowing pink when all of a sudden it was my turn. Having formed nothing else to say, I blurted out something about needing to stay true to my convictions about healthy eating even when no one agreed with me, and not giving the kids Hot Cheetos even though it's the easiest choice. I really doubted that anyone understood what I was talking about.
When I got back to the office after the training, there was an email waiting for me. It had been sent by the director of after school programming for the entire district, to all after school staff. The email contained the district's public school policy concerning food - which was actually quite good, basically no candy or junk food can be given to students during the school day, and the number of permitted pizza parties was restricted - with a direction to adhere to this policy as closely as possible after school. Could this have been a coincidence? I like to think that my anxiety and blubbering at the training was not in vain ... But in any case, I now have the administration behind me! I did not hesitate to write back and thank the director, and offer my services in conducting a training for staff on this topic.
Two of the girls brought money with them, unbeknownst to me, and once at the farmers market they quickly located all of the locally-produced sweets they could find. Each time I bumped into them they were stuffing their pretty little faces with brownies and cookies and lemonade. I was exasperated at first. But once they completed the scavenger hunt I had given them, and they had spoken with several farmers and identified vegetables they had never seen before, I felt a bit better. One of my students worked very diligently on his scavenger hunt and wrote several answers for each question.
Find a farmer who sells meat and ask him or her what animal the meat comes from, and which body parts s/he is selling. Cow! he wrote, and then proceeded to list all of the cow's body parts, including stomich. Find a vegetable that you have never seen before and ask the farmer what it is. Egg plant. Turnup greens. Green tumates.
I told the children that they had $20 to buy lunch for the whole group, and after they figured out that that was $4 each, I suggested that they pool the money together to buy food for a picnic. Bread, cheese, tomatoes. Unfortunately one student spotted a pizza stand, where a local pizza restaurant was selling fresh slices for $3.75 a pop. Three students elected to buy pizza and I had to stick to my word that they could decide on their own how to spend the money. The other two students were enamored with the idea of a picnic - "sandwiches like my grandmother makes!" one exclaimed - and so I helped them bargain with a few vendors to get all of the goods they needed for a wholesome picnic for under $8: smoked mozzarella cheese, whole wheat baguettes and heirloom tomatoes. Everyone was pleased with their lunch, and the makeshift picnic made up for my dissatisfaction over the brownies and cookies. Next week I will definitely include a lesson on portions and sugar in our Food Food Food! class.
And that's my week in a locally grown, organic Texan nutshell.