Maybe I'm just feeling charitable in this season of giving. I've put money in every Salvation Army kettle in town, added a few bucks on servers' tips, and tolerated two shopping trips to the mall.
Or maybe it's because I'm the grandson of a woman who was near-obsessive in her frugal unwillingness to throw away food. Annie Laurie Paschal was legendary for saving every usable scrap from her table; even the smallest amounts were likely to reappear in her Friday casserole, which my grandfather always ate skeptically.
Or, just maybe, it's because I'm really tired of the here and now in which common sense seems to have joined Miss Annie Laurie and Mr. Lloyd in the hereafter. Only we forgot to have the funeral.
What sparks this commiseration is the recent forced resignations of Marguerite Butts and Shelia Lowe from their jobs as cafeteria workers at Riverside Elementary School.
Their "crimes"? They retrieved food discarded from students' trays and took it home. Things like unopened containers of pudding, for example.
I know; you're shocked. You're reeling from The Horror Of It All. Rather than saluting federal policy and sending perfectly good food to the landfill, two low-paid workers instead took it home. And get this: They Probably Ate It.
Have we lost our minds? I challenge anyone to spend just one hour working in an elementary school cafeteria. I don't mean in the serving line; I've been there, done that, as have countless other parents. I'm talking about the other end: that less-glamorous little booth where all that uneaten food goes in garbage cans.
Miss Annie Laurie, who departed her earthly kitchen in 1989 after a heart attack, would have another one if she saw all the food dumped in the trash. It's bad enough that so much meat, fruit and vegetables goes in the garbage; but routinely kids throw away unopened packages of pudding, fruit juice and milk.
A significant amount of work goes into lunchroom planning, taking into account what goes on every child's plate, and what stays on the plate until it's scraped into the trash. Cutting down on waste, without depriving children of food, is a difficult balancing act; the county's school nutrition director, Jane Wiggins, says the system keeps waste to a minimum.
School cafeteria workers are prohibited by federal school-lunch guidelines from taking any of that "waste" out the back door. Theoretically, with no such policy in place, workers could prepare far more food than needed just so there would be ample leftovers to take home.
But somehow, somewhere, common sense has to be taken into account. No matter how much planning goes into the process, some perfectly good food will never leave the child's tray until it hits the garbage chute. What the heck is wrong with the cafeteria workers retrieving it?
Wiggins says Columbia County once had an agreement to donate leftovers to Golden Harvest Food Bank, but it faded out because of logistical problems. Surely Columbia County Cares or United We Care could make use of cafeteria castoffs; it's worth exploring.
Here we are, at Christmas, with two of the school system's least-lauded, lowest-paid personnel out of jobs and threatened with prosecution because they just couldn't stand to see another carton of milk or cup of pudding go into the trash. God bless them.
Miss Annie Laurie, if you're watching from your bountiful spot in Heaven where no one ever goes hungry and you never have to scrape together leftovers for a Friday casserole, please have pity on us for our wasteful stupidity.
We haven't yet lost all of our common sense, but an awful lot of it seems to have been scraped into the garbage.
Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to barry.paschal at newstimesonline.com.
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