Cold Comfort Farm

Jim: [to Bart] What’s a dazzling urbanite like you doing in a rustic setting like this?  — Blazing Saddles

My room at camp looks like a little barn house.  And we are back in for the evening.  It’s cold, to be perfectly honest.  While we have the option to go on the night hike, we’ve chosen to sit that hike out, given that rain is likely tomorrow, and we’re going to be out in the wet stuff as a result.

After we’d settled the kids in amongst their cabin groups, and while we expected them to adhere to the camp’s rules and regulations, the big issue we encountered on this first day, believe it or not, was “food waste”.

No, not bathroom trips, but leftover food.  It’s a big deal here.

The way the Food Waste thing works is that the kids are asked to not take more food than they intend to eat on their trips through the food line.  Inevitably, at least as it went down with our school’s kids last year, is that the kids arrive at camp amped up and hungry.  With comfort food prepared at the resort’s kitchen and brought over for the kids, this is good stuff to gnosh on.  So, not surprisingly, the kids wind up getting a bit more than they should, and then don’t finish their meal.  At the end of the meal, at a designated time, the camp’s counselors go around and collect the food waste from each table;  each raisin, salad dressing, burger, lettuce leaf, tomato, etc., is collected in a bucket and weighed.  0 ounces of food waste means entry into the camp’s “Hall of Fame”.  Last year’s kids managed to make it for two meals, and our kids this year can still see the school’s name listed.

Heading in, my partner and I decided to make this a big deal prior to our arrival in camp and we playfully challenged our respective kids to be watchful of their portions as they went through the food line the first time;  we both specifically mentioned that they’ll get ample opportunities to go back through for more food as much as they’d like.  Thus challenged, the kids responded.  One of my kids gamely powered through salad with blue cheese dressing (because she mistakenly and initially thought it had been ranch dressing) while two more gnawed down a large apple and pear respectively.  Proudly, my partner and I smiled knowing that while the kids hadn’t reached zero ounces with their first meal, 4 ounces of food waste amongst 47 kids wasn’t a bad start.  But the counselors, for whatever reasons they had, decided to add “waste” water to the amount of solid food we had accumulated, and I could literally see the counselor chortle to herself when she announced that our waste amount was over 1 pound.  My partner and I, sitting at adjacent tables looked at each other and asked noticeably to each other:  “water???”

Coming back in for dinner, we are now determined to eliminate the water waste.  We are served hamburgers, and the kids are doing their best to avoid what happened at lunch.  For the most part they succeed, although several of the kids are overwhelmed and are unable to completely finish their burgers and fries.  Several of their classmates try to help them finish their random bits of food, which prompts the counselor in charge of the meal to then give a speech to the kids that the issue of food waste “was not about trying to shove as much food into their mouths as they could but to make them aware of how much food they waste on a typical meal.

(Note to self:  I know the SES status of the students.  These meals are “not” typical.)

Both my partner and I are somewhat frustrated, particularly when the counselor at my table brags to the kids that he wasn’t going to have one of the desert brownies.  Then, while watching the kids eat their brownies, he observes them smugly with a look of superiority that was wholly unnecessary.  We know our students.  At lunch they’ve been shot down because waste water, which wasn’t a consideration the year before is now one, and then, after being unconcerned over the kids helping each other avoid food waste last year, now raise the issue with these kids this year.

Both my partner and I recall one student shoveling caesar salad down to finish off the last of his table’s food to get our school on the Food Waste honor roll wall for the first time last year.  This year though?  It’s likely going to get frowned upon.

I think the counselors fail to grasp how important both my colleague and I value some consistency in terms of the rules.  The kids know there is a bar they have to reach, but it’s not funny to them (or us) if the bar keeps getting moved.  The kids need to be challenged to earn their success, but they have to have success within reach, not placed so far beyond them that they’ll give up.  Even more frustrating today, is our efforts to get them to work together, i.e. helping each other finish their meals–as was done and encouraged last year, was part of a coalescence last year’s group was able to enjoy as they moved through their week in camp.  As we are here only 4 days as opposed to 5, we wanted to get the kids to that level faster than last year.  It just sucks that the counselors appear to want to work against us, not with us.  It’s the equivalent of seeing the water from lunch get poured onto the solid food waste to up the total weight.

As we walk back to our little farm cottages for the night, T., my partner, and I reflect about this entire “food waste” issue.  In particular, we both comment about the “brownie-less” counselor at our table.  I then glance behind me to see that same counselor who had bragged to my table about not needing to eat a brownie.  He is a carrying a plate filled with them, heading up the path towards the staff bungalows.  Both T. and myself acknowledge him, and then hear him bragging (again) about how his little brownie stash will therefore make up for the lack of a purchased Valentine’s Day gift.  At first, we are worried about whether or not he hear us dissing him.  Then, we are left considering how off-kilter stolen brownies seem for a Valentine’s Day gift.

Still, he’s apparently heading home to his Valentine.  My own Valentine is home tonight without me.  But I have a card from her, a bag full of Valentine’s Day Snicker bars, and a carefully worded card from Kate on which she’s spelled “Daddy”.  That sort of stuff will keep me warm tonight.


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