The School Cafeteria

I remember when I was in elementary school and how the currently labelled MPR (Multi-Purpose Room) was always known as the cafeteria.

The cafeteria was where food was actually prepared on site. It was a very ‘fun’ place to be I always thought. There was a system with everything involved. If you were purchasing lunch, then there were procedures while standing in line to get your tray, your plate, and your utensils. Behind the scenes was the dishwashing area where 6th graders worked on rotating shifts. Not sure, but I think we received a free meal, or ice cream on the days we worked. Yes, ice cream…the days when that was still permitted in schools.

I remember seeing the cafeteria ladies each day as they would get to school shortly after school began to begin preparing the days fresh meals. There was hardly a day when the delicious waft of food cooking wasn’t in the air as the time neared closer to lunch. From what I remember, there wasn’t as much cynicism amongst the kids regarding the food. Pretty much everyone liked what was being cooked. The meals were always well balanced, there was always a main protein dish, some type of vegetable, a fruit, and sometimes a small cup of applesauce. Mmmm, I loved the applesauce. I remember the small scoop was set in an equally small pleated short paper cup. I was always fascinated with the way those cups were made and on the days when two cups were seated within one another, I would carefully un-pleat the outer, clean cup after being finished with my meal.

If you purchased a cafeteria lunch for the day, you would eat in the cafeteria. Those who ate at the outside lunch benches were those who brought their own lunch on that particular day. When finished inside the cafeteria, you returned your tray to a collection location where the trays were sent through a square section in the wall that led to the dishwashing area. I was always intrigued by that whole process and enjoyed the days when I ate in the cafeteria.

Behind the scenes in the dishwashing area, you were assigned a specific job if you signed up to be a dishwasher. I don’t think there was any part of that process that wasn’t enjoyable for me. You had to work fast. Trays came through the window on the belt and one student would rinse off the dishes using an overhanging faucet that used an inverted thin metal ‘u’ shaped bar with automatic shut-off when the faucet was not in use.

Another student would load the dishes on a large tray and then feed into the large dish washer that would move the tray in from one end, and out the other side via conveyor belt. Another student would then dry the dishes and stack them for reuse. The entire process took place running in a clockwise direction where the dirty dished came in through the ‘front’ corner of the room, fed clocks linearly to the rinser, stacked in a washing tray on the same line, then would ‘turn the corner’ to enter the dish washing machine. Once out of the dishwashing machine, the washing tray would continue along the same wall, then ’round another corner’ to be dried and re-stacked along the remaining side of the clockwise direction. The dishwashing room smelled of detergent, there was something about that I liked.

Once finished with the entire lunch process, there was much to clean up and dry. I enjoyed it all for some reason. Just a kid at school, enjoying the process to complete a task for a larger purpose. The days when a cafeteria, was a real Cafeteria.