I have eaten lunch in the CPS—Chicago Public Schools—in each of the last 10 years. Granted, I only ate one meal at the same school in every one of the years between 2000 and 2009. But still, I must be due some sort of military award for courage (or foolishness).
The good news is that I’m still alive.
The even better news is that CPS promises to improve the menu starting in the next school year. Reportedly, healthier choices will be offered and some of the worst options reduced or eliminated. This comes as a consequence of complaints from the students themselves.
But again, the change doesn’t start for several months.
This all means that my friends and I, supporters of the Zeolite Scholarship Fund, will once more go into “the valley of death” of gastronomy that is the Mather High School cafeteria on May 7th. On that date, we will also award a scholarship to a member of this year’s graduating class.
Remember Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s famous poem The Charge of the Light Brigade? Here is a slightly altered version of one stanza, just to give you a “flavor” of what our gustatory experience has been like:
Pizza to the right of them,
Nachos to the left of them,
Pop-Tarts in front of them
Lined-up and waiting;
Assaulted by stench and smell,
Troubled we walked, unwell,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of Hell
Reeled the still-starving.
Please understand. My friends and I, all Mather grads from the 1960s, love our old school. We admire the dedicated teachers and administrative personnel and the hardest working of the students. The lunch room is clean, the cafeteria workers are courteous and efficient, and they do the best that can be done with the materials at hand.
The school has been described as a “multi-ethnic stew” by Charles Storch of the Chicago Tribune. Lots of languages, colors, religions, nationalities, accents, and styles of dress. And, somehow, the kids get along well and seem to respect their differences. Some even aspire to great things. We try to figure out whom among those students to place our bets on, giving them money to support a college education that they might not otherwise be able to afford.
But the food supplied to the school—I’m not exaggerating when I say that if you have a pet you love, you’d be hesitant to feed it to him.
It has every quality a good meal should have except for nutrition, taste, color, and texture.
I’m glad to hear that things will improve and look forward to the return of my classmates and I in 2011, when we will get a chance to evaluate the new cuisine.
In the meantime, if you have a child who eats at school anywhere in this country, I have a suggestion.
Go to the school cafeteria. Eat a meal there. And if it isn’t any good, complain. Organize.
Pack him a lunch.
These are our children. This is our posterity.
Our kids deserve better.