Changes to school lunches leaving a bad taste

Not on Dinosaur David’s menu. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES
Not on Dinosaur David’s menu. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES
It surprised me to learn wokedom may be alive and well in my old hometown.

But since Act New Zealand leader David Seymour has been discriminating against certain foods on the basis of their supposed wokeness, I have discovered Murchison Area School is right up there with the wokest of the woke. Sometimes they serve sushi in the Ka Ora, Ka Ako school lunch programme.

The school newsletter confirms it — sushi served with cheese /vege sticks is on the menu next week. Today, it’s chicken noodle soup (served with garlic bread) made using a recipe submitted by one of the classes.

Over a couple of weeks, other lunches include lasagne and fruit, cottage pie and a brownie, burritos and fruit, butter chicken and a biscuit, roast with fruit, pesto pasta bake and banana bread, and nachos and yoghurt.

Who knows how much of that Mr Seymour might consider woke. To me, it just sounds delicious.

The supplier of the food, the local Beechwoods Cafe, is into its fourth year of the programme. The education ministry’s website tells me it receives $5.82 a meal for pupils in years 0-3, $6.81 for years 4 -8 and $8.68 for years 9 and above. (If schools prepare food on-site these amounts are slightly lower.)

The recipes it has developed, according to the nutrition requirements of the programme, have been so good the Ministry of Education has asked them to share them nationwide, Waimea Weekly reported last year.

Pupils use school cutlery for the food which comes in washable containers delivered on a trolley trundled the few hundred metres from the cafe to the school, all part of keeping the waste and carbon footprint down.

My old school (where I attended the primary section) is one of 1013 schools and kura involved with the programme which is targeted at the 25% of pupils facing the greatest socio-economic barriers nationally. The aim of the programme, which seems to have become lost in some of the noise from Mr Seymour, is to reduce food insecurity by providing a nutritious lunch every day. By giving meals to all pupils, no-one is stigmatised.

About one in five children live in households that struggle to put enough good quality food on the table. An estimated 40% of parents run out of food sometimes or often.

Mr Seymour, without explaining how the nutritional quality is to be maintained, has suggested bulk buying of non- perishable food for the pupils in year 7 and above from next year will be able to bring the cost down to $3 a meal.

Who knew this free marketeer was so keen on nationalising things rather than allowing local communities and schools to work out what might suit them best?

He has indicated the meals from this bulk buying will be sandwiches and fruit. There is nothing wrong with sandwiches and fruit, if the bread is good quality and the fillings nutritious.

Many of us had those lunches at school and many still do. However, if that is the main meal you are having every day, that’s a different story, isn’t it?

It is not a happy story, and it seems ridiculous in a country which produces so much food for export, but we cannot shut our eyes to it.

What is baffling is how schools such as my old one are expected to handle the proposed change. The beauty of the existing programme is all pupils get the same meals, except for those with food allergies, in differing amounts according to their age.

Now, if I understand what will happen from next year correctly, the younger children will get something different from the older ones.

Will the cafe find it hard to produce the same quality when the economies of scale for it will change? How is the school expected to store the bulk food and compile the meals for the older children? Who pays for any of that? How much environmental waste is there likely to be?

The conspiracy theorist in me wonders if the plan from Mr Seymour, who has been adamant the scheme is a waste of money, is to make the meals so unpalatable to older pupils they won’t eat them.

Unless his coalition partners stop him, Dinosaur David will be able to cry "let them eat quiche" and drop the older kids from the programme.

In the meantime, I am trying to work out if I could combine a visit to Murchison to attend the last Mass at my childhood church, St Peter Chanel, on Sunday, and enrolling as an adult pupil at the school on Monday in time for sushi for lunch.

My sister, the Earthquake Baby, who works at the school, has not been encouraging. She doesn’t like sushi. She’s letting the woke side down.

 - Elspeth McLean is a Dunedin writer.