Cape Town, South Africa

Cape Town, South Africa
Serving it up at Manenberg Primary!

Friday, October 21, 2016

American and Croatian Commonalities: Infrastructural Difficulties

Good morning from Zagreb! I hope you are having a wonderful day today! Here is a cool painting that I “stumbled upon” while in Zagreb:

[The famous French artist, Étien, painted this turtle and a few other sea creatures - basically in 3D. Check out this picture below, it actually looks 3D if you back up enough!]

The budding Croatian school lunch program

Unlike many of the other countries I have visited, Croatia’s lunch program has only recently taken off. I am staying with a woman, age 27, who said she did not receive school lunch at any point during her schooling. She mentioned receiving bread or sandwiches during the lunch hour, but she did not describe that as “lunch.” Though I haven’t been able to find an exact date online, it appears that Croatia’s school lunch program started between 7-10 years ago (right after my host graduated from high school, bummer for her!). Furthermore, school lunch is primarily served in elementary school, and finding lunch in high schools is less common.

It makes sense that Croatia has not had a long-standing school lunch program, as the country is officially less than 30 years old. After the Yugoslav Wars during the 1990s, the Croatian government was tasked with rebuilding parts of the country that had been decimated by war. There were little funds to go to programs such as school lunch.
[Photo of decimated Dubrovnik from Yugoslav Wars]

Now, the government is better-established and is channeling funds into school meals, and is experiencing “growing pains,” if you will. Though the American NSLP has been around much longer than Croatia, it is also experiencing similar difficulties.

Growing pains: Changing infrastructure and equipment in school kitchens

Now that the Croatian program is up and running, school lunch officials recognize that school kitchens are not prepared to cook hundreds of daily meals. There are the obvious equipment needs, such ovens, freezer spaces, etc. - but there are also less-obvious needs, such as increased electrical capacity, ventilation, and mere space to hold everything.

[Looks pretty different from America, huh?]

Since the process of improving infrastructure is incremental, Croatian schools are seeing great diversity in the quality of school meals; a school with updated equipment will serve vastly better food than a school with no updated equipment … which will serve better food than a school that lacks a kitchen.

America is experiencing similar infrastructural issues as well. In 2010, Congress passed the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, which required school meals to have higher nutritional content (Pew study). However, most schools lacked the infrastructure to support these changes; The Kids’ Safe and Healthful Foods Project found that 88 percent of school food authorities report needing one or more new pieces of equipment to comply with the new standards. Over half of school food authorities polled need significant infrastructural change to comply with standards. But why are so many kitchens in need of these changes?

American kitchens have historically relied on serving processed foods to their students. The good ol’ “pull it out of the freezer and nuke em” fish sticks, the bread that could sit on the shelf for several months … yeah, you know what I’m talking about.

[Fish treasures ... these were my jam in elementary school.]

With these the government’s new nutrition standards, kitchen staff need more than the giant microwave needed to heat up food. But did the government allocate enough money to fund infrastructural change?

Sigh, of course not. Actually, the government had not given any funding for school lunch equipment since the early 1980s. Yikes! After the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act was signed, the National School Lunch Program requested $630 million for infrastructural changes. The government gave them $100 million.  So, like the Croatian lunch program, American kitchens are slowly waiting their turn to receive funding for new equipment. Kitchen staff have taken incredible, unconventional measures to comply with these nutrition standards (cooking food offsite and bringing it in - like the St. Paul Public School system, bringing in coolers to keep foods cold, etc.).

What’s the most-requested piece of equipment at the moment? The combi-oven.

[It's ... beautiful.]

Here’s why (this is taken from Wikipedia, but I figure that there is little benefit to lying about what a combi-oven does):

"Combi steamers can produce both dry (convection) and moist (steam) heat, and are capable of shifting between them automatically during the cooking process. They can thus simultaneously steam vegetables or potatoes quickly and gently, while also roasting or braising meat and fish, or baking bread. The appliance is fit for many culinary applications, including baking, roasting, grilling, steaming, braising, blanching and poaching. Combi steamers expand upon standard convection ovens in that they also generate steam or a combination of steam and superheated steam. They help gastronomy-industry professionals bridge the gap between economy and menu diversity while also maintaining the desired food quality."

Doesn’t that sound perfect for a school kitchen? Yes. And this is what all the schools are duking it out for.
Thank you again for taking the time to read my blog, I appreciate it so much. I’ll talk with you soon!

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