Boarding School Eats

This weekend I asked my AP English Language and Composition students to write about their experience as consumers of food at our boarding school. In class on Friday we read Chang-Rae Lee’s piece “Immovable Feast” from the New Yorker, and I asked them to write something in the same vein. I neglected to mention to them that Lee’s title is a riff on Hemingway’s A Movable Feast, but they’ll figure that out someday. Anyway, I’m doing this assignment with them . . .

My first seven years as a teacher were spent at another school, teaching at the Middle School level. That meant I was required to eat in the cafeteria with the students every day in order to help assure that everyone was well behaved, eating politely, and back to class on time. I got into bad eating habits: burgers, breaded chicken tenders, fries, and ice cream with every meal. During my early years at that job, I was still in my twenties and could eat anything I wanted without any noticeable impact to my waistline, but eventually I started to notice that I was looking a bit doughy. I vaguely remember that I would visit the school’s snack bar after the middle schoolers were done with their classes and doing PE (which for them was an hour before the high school students; roughly 2pm to 3). I’d buy a can of Coke and a pack of Reece’s peanut butter cups. How many days a week was I eating like that? I can’t remember now, but that’s pretty horrifying. As I write this, I am on duty in the dean’s office and have been all weekend. A big tub of candy sits on my desk which I refill from our stash whenever it runs low. Students (and quite a few faculty members) grab candy when they pass by; often several times a day. I have somehow developed the willpower to completely resist, and I haven’t touched the stuff at all.

When I came to work at my current job, I no longer had the onus of supervising meals as I did when I taught Middle School. All of us contribute to watching over the Dining Hall during meal times here at George School, and I do less than my fair share. I think I’ve been making up for all of the years that I had to eat in the cafeteria by using my lunchtime to get off campus and go to the bagel place across the street. Despite the fact that our school serves terrific lunches, I use that 45 minutes as a breather in the middle of my day. The folks at the bagel place all treat me like a regular. I love it when they start working on my order before I’ve even stepped up to the counter. They often work on my food before other customers’ who got there first. Now that’s a perk!

The one year at George School that I was dorm head, I went to breakfast in the Dining Hall every weekday. I actually would eat breakfast in my apartment first: always Honey Nut Cheerios, orange juice, and a cup of coffee. But I would sit in the Dining Hall from 7am to 8 each morning to greet colleagues and see which of my boys was getting up and eating. In truth, not many of them made it to breakfast with great frequency, but since dorm heads have a reduced teaching load, and I typically didn’t have 8am classes that year, I felt like assigning myself breakfast duty was a good way for me to pitch in and help our residence life program. While I rarely ate on those mornings, that was a year that there were fresh doughnuts every Friday morning; real ones, I mean. I must admit that I had my share of those warm little ovals. The cinnamon sugar doughnuts fresh from the fryer were about as addictive as anything I’ve ever eaten.

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