Monday, November 14, 2005

Blast from the Past: Food Service

Cross-posted (lightly-edited) from the alumnae website my alma mater has set up, on which someone recently started a discussion group for former Dining Services workers:

Just found this group. This is amazing. I haven't thought about my freshman year in Dining Services for a long time, but reading all these posts and remembering makes me realize that I learned at least as much there as I did in classes that year.

I'd never done any kind of food service before, and was totally at sea. My very first shift I worked the pot sink, washing and washing and washing, sweaty and miserable, close to crying but I did it!

I heard my first Madonna song in that kitchen: "Lucky Star," blasted out during cleanup, everyone singing along.

One night a few weeks into the semester I took the train to my mom's for the weekend right after a shift. There was a high-school student from town at the station too, and I was telling her how I was at the college and had just started this job at food services. "Oh," she said in this weirdly matter-of-fact yet aloof way. "I don't have a job. I don't have to." I was stunned. I hadn't had a job in high school either, but lots of my friends did, and it had never occurred to me to be snobby about it. It was like a window into a whole other class system.

Because I never got that good at food service, I didn't expect compliments, just to get through the shift. I got snapped at a fair bit for being slow and doing things wrong. It was new for me, and in retrospect really good for me, to do something regularly where I didn't shine and had to work hard just to keep up. Not that I shone at everything else in the world, mind you; I just tended not to keep doing things that weren't easy for me.

One night we were short-staffed and I threw myself into it, along with everyone else in the kitchen: washing pots, pulling the dishes off the conveyor belt, running refills out to the salad bar, running the garbage out to the dumpster, back to the pot sink, everything a blur, until finally the shift was over, everything washed, wiped down, closed down, fresh bags in the garbage bins, the machines turned off. Only then did my student supervisor turn to me and say what a good job I'd done, how I'd helped keep everything going during a really tough shift. Those words of praise meant more than any grade I got on a paper. And they were harder-earned, too.


Blogger liz said...

What a great story!

And coincidentally, I was working as a Kitchen Aide at camp that same year, cracking eggs and chopping cabbages to "Lucky Star". You brought it all back to me.

8:08 AM  
Anonymous peripateticpolarbear said...

wow. This brings me back. I did food service my freshman year, too. I sucked, too.

9:29 AM  
Anonymous Renaissance Woman said...

I managed to escape working at my college food service, though I enjoyed the pilfered ice cream of my dormmates' midnight raids. I'm sure some of them worked there just for the breaking-and-entering expertise.

Our food service was officially called "Silers." My friends and I referred to it as "Slimers," in homage to the prison fare on Slimers Isle in the wonderful kids' book Jacob Two Two Meets the Hooded Fang .

12:52 PM  
Blogger Rosie Bonner said...

Yup. Food service. Man, did I hate it. I can't even remember why, exactly, but I was so, so, so grateful when I could start making my $4 an hour teaching intro French drill sessions instead of $3.65 cutting up the industrial cakes and serving at the steam table.

The view into another class reminds me of a story my shrink told me. She's a psych clinical nurse specialist. When she didn't have a master's yet and was working as a staff nurse in a psych hospital, her daughter had just started in a private school with a good academic reputation. The potential class issues hadn't really dawned on her yet. She then happened to meet a very Junior League-y mom of one of her daughter's classmates at some kind of parent function. The woman, upon hearing what Elaine did for a living, cooed, "Oh, how interesting. What is it like to take care of people... for money?"

6:20 PM  

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