by Oliver Benet
I spent a lot of my school life staying at school for lunch. The food was nice most of the time, but not always. Once in a while we were given liver, I remember how much I hated the fucking stuff. Of course, as soon as the monitor turned their back, the liver disappeared-but not into my mouth; it went into someone’s pocket, the school can shove it up their arse, I thought. I wasn’t going to eat that shit. I think liver was the only thing I refused to eat.
I used to get to the dinner hall dying of hunger, especially after having spent playtime running around, like a child possessed. I remember it as a time of having grazed knees, muddy jeans, and a snotty nose. We used to get up to all sorts of tricks that today would make people stand and watch with their hands on their head. So of course, when lunchtime came around I was as hungry as a lion.
The kids would gulp down the lot ,fish, meat, and stews, all types of greasy fried shit, pasta, vegetables, for dessert there was always fruit, or yogurts and all sorts of industrial produced pastries. Among my classmates there were two or three who had some type of food allergy. These children, best friends in the playground and my team-mates for football, would suddenly become weirdos, freaks from another world.
Now, I am a cook working in a Barcelona school and cooking school meals. Without getting myself into trouble, I’d like to explain to you a few of the things I see on a daily basis.
There are children with food allergies- to eggs, milk, rice, gluten, fish and seafood, nuts, pulses, corn. To all types of fruit, whether bananas, pineapples, kiwis or peaches……boys and girls with allergies to foods or combinations of foods.
It not only allergies or intolerances, there are vegetarian and vegan children to think about……..
To complicate things more….. we get parents sending letters to the school requesting that their child not eat certain foods (without giving any type of medical reason) and without understanding why, the cooks have to comply. We also have to make previsions for different religious groups, and children with temporary sicknesses. Our friends the dentists also have a role to play in what food is cooked, boys and girls who wear braces on their teeth also have special soft food diets.
I’m sure I haven’t listed everything, although I think you’ll get the idea…..
I’ll let you take from this what you like, but the amount of responsibility that the staff in a school canteen takes on is extraordinary, even more when we are talking about younger kids and our work is often undervalued.
A big hug to school cooks and monitors everywhere, and thanks for taking care of so many of our boys and girls!
*Oliver Benet is a Catalan cook and writer of the book “Per què odiava en Ferran Adrià?”