“It looks like prison food, and the fact that it is the same price as buying a meal at McDonald’s … makes it even more insulting to pay for.” This is a response that was taken from a school-wide survey distributed to understand how the Tahoma students feel about the school lunch. Many of the students dislike the school lunch with a passion.
In addition, most of the responses that were positive only praised the fruit and milk options: “Sometimes the items they have for lunch are good quality. I like that there is a lot of fruit and I get can as much as I want.” However, other replies describe the food as “soggy,” “bland” and “tasteless.”
Due to the overwhelmingly negative responses received from the survey, we reached out to the Lunchmaster company in charge of the food for the Summit Public Schools system. An appointment was set up; however, the General Manager was too busy to comment. The Lunchmaster company shared a press release document in response to our questions.
There was a stark contrast between our abundantly unfavorable responses and their official statement: “Schools and students have given us a considerable amount of positive feedback. Students always compliment that our food is flavorful, looks fresh & appetizing, and love that there is a large selection to order from. We are always delighted to hear that the kids love our food, even the pickiest of eaters.”
Out of 48 responses to our survey, 28 of them were distasteful of the school lunch, and only six of the responses were positive. 14 of the responses were incoherent. We reached out again due to the large difference between the official comment and our survey; however, Lunchmaster declined to comment.
Since many of the answers received by the survey were negative, we reached out to Lunchmaster asking them a list of questions on how their food is prepared. In their response, the company stated that the food “looks fresh”; however, many responses call the food “soggy” and “cardboard.”
Many children at Tahoma are disgruntled by the sogginess and staleness of the food, which led us to question how their food is delivered and kept at Tahoma. In the press release, the General Manager stated, “Delivery trucks transport the meals from our site to your school. The trucks carry specialized equipment (hot meal unit, cold meal unit, and refreshment unit) that maintain proper holding temperatures of food … Food is delivered to [the] school site, where Nutrition Clerks/school food staff hold the food at proper temperatures until lunch is served.” This contrasts the narrative that is painted by the student body which calls the food “disgusting” and “artificial.”
The press release given to us has a large section on food storage, including the general laws and standards for food storage. According to the press document, food is stored in a controlled, dry temperature. The temperature “danger zone” that food must be kept out of is 41-135 degrees Fahrenheit, but if food is in this temperature range for longer than four hours the food must be disposed of. Food storage areas must also have good ventilation for temperature control, must be dry and the food is stored away from floors and walls.
Here at Tahoma, Lupe Talamantes-Escobedo, the school’s Operations Manager, provided us with a detailed explanation of how the lunch is kept at Tahoma. “We take … an inventory that we have the right amount of milk, the right amount of meal, for brunch and for lunch that we have pre-ordered a month ahead of time. We have a portable … warmer. The food already for … today’s lunch comes in there … every day we just swap the empty one for the full one … [for] the cold stuff for tomorrow, we have … an industrial fridge, we have to check the temperature … when we put it in and before we serve to make sure it’s healthy and that it is at a safe level to keep it cold. [The portable warmer]’s always kept at … 165 [degrees] … once it reaches that, when it’s healthy to eat and safe, it sets itself to a warmer … and that’s pretty much it!”
Our personal opinion on the school lunch is similar to the students of Tahoma, and the inconsistencies between the student survey we sent out and the press release by the Lunchmaster lead us to believe that the lunch is not as great as Lunchmaster would like us to believe.
Due to the survey that was sent out and the press release we received, we believe that the school lunch is not all it’s cracked up to be. If the Lunchmaster company didn’t want the Tahoma student body to think that the school lunch tasted like “prison food,” they should consider listening to student critical feedback and think of ways to improve their school lunch menu. For example, many students complained about the freshness of the food, and many responded about improving the quality and taste. A possible option is to maybe invest in better storage/delivery systems considering that the Lunchmaster company “serve[s] meals for over 90 schools in the Bay Area.”
Featured Image (at the top of this post): Summit Tahoma’s lunch program serves pasta, among other food options. PHOTO CREDIT: Omar El-Bandrawy
See below for a video about lunch at Tahoma: