Eating with My Eyes

October 5, 2011 § Leave a comment

I enjoy slipping away from my desk, my screen, my thoughts and worries at noon, on an occasional Tuesday, to walk over to King Middle School in Berkeley and buy a five dollar school lunch.I will stop by the Chefs’ office to check in and see what activities or events they’ve posted on the calendar, and where I might be able to shoot next. I am drawn to unpredictability and surprise when making a documentary.

I am also fond of the Berkeley School Lunch’s Mexican coleslaw, a recipe Executive Chef Bonnie Christensen and her team perfected before the start of this school year. I ask the server at the burrito station for a slice of quesadilla, a small scoop of rice, another of pinto beans, and a lot more of the fresh Mexican slaw.I make a mental note to get the ingredients for the slaw so I can copy it at home.

The 6th,7th and 8th graders pour in to eat in 20 minute intervals. The noise and energy levels reach peak levels in the uncommonly beautiful dining commons, the centerpiece building space of the school. Teachers on duty keep the kids contained and almostfocused on their plates of food. For many, this is the only hot meal of their day.

A few hours later, some of these kids will have been in Ms. Sonnenberg’s or Ms. Tanner’s “What’s On Your Plate” science class, and after school they will also hang out with friends at the corner store across from Fat Apple’s restaurant on MLK Street, buying and eating hefty bags of Red Hot Cheetos.

I would never want to stop them. Watching the clusters of young teenagers laughing talking and jumping up and down with sheer hormonal excitement after seven hours in class, it is impossible not to see again in so real a way, how food – even these naughty dayglo snacks — is the powerful force that binds us together.

The love and care that the school district cooks and servers, dishwashers and cleaners put into each meal infuses every molecule of the salad bar, today’s Mexican plate station, the milk tap and the compost bins. It’s like what one of the teachers explained, “it’s OK to hold both realities—hot lunch and hot cheetos in your mouth, that’s what kids can do.”

The school lunch cooks are planting seeds for future memories. At some point later in their lives, the kids who have gone through these lunch lines will remember the fine smell of delicately seasoned pinto beans, the crunch of the fresh Mexican slaw, and the ceiling light in the Commons rooms, and that moment when they were twelve years old and peeling a perfect Clementine orange to taste.

This is how we make change on a daily level, one plate at a time.

We are so grateful to all of you — the community backing this project, this important movement, working for it, and communicating through LUNCH LOVE COMMUNITY what we can collectively achieve.

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