Thursday, October 14, 2010
I am a Lunch Lady (don't worry, no hairnet)
I serve my kids lunch everyday. It’s never too much of an ordeal: the food is set outside my classroom everyday right before the lunch bell rings and after we push together the desks and cover them in table cloths, the kids get out their trays and line up to be served. The meals consist of a similar spread everyday: there is always a rice, a soup, a meat, a kimchi, and some kind of vegetable or tofu. To Koreans, this is pretty basic, but as far as I’m concerned, my Korean kids have stomachs (and taste buds) of steel in comparison to their American counterparts.
Just like in the States, a cafeteria lunch is never deserving of culinary awards, but every day reveals new entrees that would put to shame the rubbery mac ‘n’ cheese and over-processed meats that I remember complaining about as an elementary-schooler. I can’t imagine any American child gobbling down a plate of seaweed and fried squid rings, not to mention octopus spaghetti and dried fish salad, but my kindies eat the tofu and spicy kimchi like champs.
Like all kids, my kindies have their own preferences. As they hand over their trays they will inform me: “Shelby Teacher…delicious!” or “Shelby Teacher… liiiiittle bit,” so it’s always pretty evident what they like or don’t like. The kids know that they will get a little bit of each dish, and because they have to finish everything on their trays before coming back for seconds, they’ve figured out all the tricks to swallow down whatever they don’t like. They roll kimchi in balls of rice if it is too spicy, chase down mussels with water or tea, or plug their noses to choke down the acorn tofu that they all despise.
Of course, there are always battles to fight. Eric finds clever ways to spit his kimchi in the trash, so he now has mandatory mouth, hand, and pocket checks every time he wants a tissue or needs to leave the room. Joseph likes to fake stomachaches and pretend he’s full to get out of eating most soups and tofu. Jean needs to be reminded every day to eat her soup and rice before she can come back for her second, third, and fourth helpings of meat. And for the ones who just can’t finish in time, they spend their playtime in the library glaring at their chilled food until the Korean teachers force-feed it to them (not my rule.)
I usually feel bad for enforcing the “eat everything on your plate rule” because I don’t do a good job of leading by example. Even though I’m always provided with a tray, spoon, and chopsticks in case I feel like a free meal, I rarely indulge. Don’t get me wrong, I generally love Korean cuisine, but the foul-smelling, oddly textured, poorly prepared meals I serve to my kids leave much to be desired. (Much like in the States, cafeteria food hardly resembles the real thing in taste, smell, or consistency.) On more than one occasion my kids have asked, “Shelby Teacher, why you no eat?” I’ve managed to find excuses that are acceptable to them, while hiding the truth that their lunches often trigger my gag reflex. But, I guess that’s the way it goes in the teacher-student hierarchy.