Food for Thought

Alice Zhu


It’s a busy day of school as usual. I run to my locker and scan through my agenda for the things I need to do today: 8:30 – hand in chemistry assignment, 11:45 – go to French club, 12:10 – go see my physics teacher, and 12:25 – print off my English assignment. At the start of lunch, I decide to buy a quick lunch at the school cafeteria and then head to the 4th floor for French club. However, upon arriving at the commons, I see a huge line of people waiting to buy their lunches from the school cafe. And I think to myself:  it may take at least 15 minutes before I can get my lunch!

There are a number of reasons why students choose to buy their lunches from the school cafeteria: first of all, it’s convenient. By buying their lunches in school, they are saving themselves a trip to the Tim Hortons or Subway restaurant down the block. Also, the food sold at the cafeteria is genuinely delicious. Whenever I pass by there, I can smell the savoury gravy on the poutine, see the fine texture of the baked fish, and almost taste the rich, creamy Alfredo sauce on the lasagna. And most of all, there’s the friendly personality of the staff members who serve the food to the students, Georgia and Athena, who run the cafe every morning and lunch and make all of the food by themselves with the help of Ivan, a student at North Toronto.

With all these reasons, it is quite inevitable that students from NT will choose to buy their lunches at the school cafe. But the problem is, when there are a lot of students buying, it increases the wait time for other students who may be in a hurry to get to a club or to write a test. And this inconveniently leaves those students with an inequitable ultimatum: either they miss the test or a portion of their club meetings, or they skip their lunch and sit in class for the entire afternoon with their stomachs growling.

Emily Xu, a Grade 10 student at NT, says that she would like to get her lunch more quickly if possible. “At my old school”, she says, “we had a debit machine” which saved a lot of time because students and staff members didn’t have to waste time searching for change. Emily and her friends also believe that instituting a “self-serve station” and having a student volunteer monitor it would increase the speed of the service.

Besides students, there are also teachers at NT who feel that there could be some improvement. Ms. Pawlowski, a French and English teacher atNorth Toronto, believes that installing a microwave within the cafeteria and having a staff or student heat up the meals for students will reduce the number of students buying food, and thus will decrease wait times.

But it turns out that the issue had to do with manpower. “It’s just me and Athena, who are running the service”, says Georgia. “That’s all.”

 Georgia says that she hates to see “students leave the line to go out in the cold for food”, but the thing is, even though she tries her best to speed up the service and reduce wait times, with just her and Athena managing the station, it’s “very difficult” to serve everyone who lines up for food in a short amount of time.

Seeing that the problem stemmed from the number of working staff, I decided to phone the Nutrition Services office of this district to make some inquiries. One of the managers, whose name is Kathy Howells, told me that there is certainly an adequate number of people working in the cafeteria, and that not many cafeterias in high schools are so well-managed. “It is a reasonable number” of staff and the service is very efficient, she says, because Georgia and Athena are absolutely “wonderful staff” and are “hardworking” like no other.

With that in mind, has the ice in our hearts melted? I know it has for me. So yes, it may take a while to get a lunch, and yes, it may take some time away from our clubs and meetings. But it takes a lot of work to manage a cafeteria like that, especially when you cook all the food by yourself and have to serve it at a high school with a population of a thousand plus students.

The ideas for reducing wait times are all innovative and plausible ideas that may very well be put into effect in the years to come, and it is great that there are already so many for improving an essential service. But for now, what with all the hard work the cafeteria staff and others put in, let’s be genuinely thankful.