Letter to the editor: Cafeteria food

Letter to the editor: Cafeteria food

*This is a letter sent to the Oracle written by MVHS student Lauren Dagan concerning food selection in the cafeteria:

I am a sophomore here at Mountain View High School.  Most students are familiar with the cafeteria; every day, lunch served for only a few dollars.  Students can even apply for financial aid, if needed.  There are enough cashiers to keep things moving, and plenty of variety – at least when they haven’t run out.  There are tasty and healthy options in both lines (who doesn’t love the barbecued chicken, however messy it may be), but there are also serious flaws in the menu, nutrition, and quality.

Aside from the fact that the menu is erratic and sometimes seems poorly planned, every Friday is “nacho day;” bowls of corn chips, chili and cheese sauce in the hot lunch line.  I know some people enjoy nacho day, but I am never happy to see nachos.  It is not a filling, appetizing, or well balanced meal.  The cheese sauce is bright yellow, artificial in both appearance and odor.  I have complained to the lunch staff that, in my opinion, nachos are an unhealthy snack, not a meal.  While they acknowledged my complaint, and even seemed to agree with me, there has been no change.

Also offered are three types of burgers, daily in the cold line and about once a week in the hot lunch line.  I tried eating one once, and didn’t get past the first bite, instead going back for something different.  The texture, taste and smell of the burger did not give me the impression of meat at all.  There are no nutrition labels on them, and no ingredients list, so I wonder: what quality is the meat and how many fillers are added?

When nutrition labels are on the food, it is evident that some choices are not the healthiest.  I looked at the nutrition label for three different types of microwave burritos in the cold lunch line.  They all contained hundreds of milligrams of sodium, and two contained sodium benzoate.  My mother learned on WebMD that sodium benzoate is a carcinogen when combined with vitamin C.  While burritos may not be particularly high in vitamin C, it is in our diets every day, and it makes me quite concerned that this chemical, also used as an anti-caking agent in pesticides (per PubChem.org), is an additive in our food.

I also know that the quality of some meals declined from last school year to this one.  During my freshman year, barbecued chicken burgers were made from visibly real chicken, with decent barbecue sauce on a mediocre bun.  This year, chicken burgers made of ground, processed chicken were taken from the cold lunch line and had a glob of sauce dabbed on one side, which was just as mysterious and unpalatable as the hamburgers.  I went straight to the kitchen staff and complained, comparing this year’s meal to last year’s meal.  The kitchen staff acknowledged the difference and I was allowed a sandwich of my choice for free.  Good service, bad food.

Mystery meat and gluey cheese sauce are not what I want to be eating, and I am sure many of you share this view.  When hamburgers are being served from the hot lunch line, salads and sandwiches from the cold lunch line clear out even faster.  This is saying something, because both are gone within a few minutes on an average day.  Fruit is also in high demand, and the cafeteria cannot keep up.  There is barely any variety of fruit available to begin with, but by the end of the week, that selection narrows even more.  We are left with bruised apples and under-ripe pears by Fridays, which makes nacho day even worse for me, and less healthy for everybody.

I am sure that I am not the only one experiencing dissatisfaction over our cafeteria’s menu.  Voicing my complaints to the kitchen staff didn’t have any effect, and while I realize change happens slowly, I think it is time to step it up a little bit.  I know they have the challenge of making meals affordable as the price of ingredients climbs (especially in present times of drought), but sacrificing quality has its limits.  Have we reached ours?  Since the students (and teachers) pay for the food we eat, we should be making this decision.  Next time you buy a hamburger from our cafeteria, pull it open and see what’s inside.  I don’t think you’ll like it.

Lauren Dagan