Buying smart & serving equally
It is true, that when making menu and buying decisions for my kitchen, I make my decisions based on product quality, where it was made, ingredients, value and packaging. What comes to the island must also leave in some form, and packaging/trash is a huge part of food production which I consider. We at Pioneer Camp Manitoba have seen the financial benefit and impact of cooking from scratch vs. cooking for convenience. When our own food delivery folks are the ones telling us, “wow, you guys must eat really well at your camp - all the other places we deliver to order frozen, convenience products” - I think that says a lot. We have saved thousands of dollars annually by making our own sauces, dressings, beverages, soups and baked goods all from scratch as best we can. Never mind the packaging and trash that was therefore avoided. Carefully crafted sustenance like this will be more enjoyed than the convenient equivalents, and by creating a work space that is built on learning and understanding how and why we cook & serve the way we do, has left room for me to teach hundreds of people how to cook for themselves and the value in doing so. There will always be a time for convenience products and I believe in having some great back up plans in place, but tangibly showing that we can take the time to make our own meals and snacks, has and will impact the next generation in ways that it truly needs it.
Cooking from scratch allows us to serve each other well by eliminating allergens so commonly found in pre-prepared items. Building equality into our menu has impacted our community and allowed it to in fact expand. We are able to say YES to a diverse group of guests with diverse dietary needs and restrictions to come be a part of a camp community that otherwise could not have accommodated them, by serving good, home-made food that was made just for their needs. Having a stock of products that serve needs well is important and is only the start to caring for each other well. I’m not just talking about allergies and food sensitivities. Looking beyond that to see the nutritional balance for the whole person who is in your care for a whole week or longer. Whether they need to eat vegan, or follow a special diet because they are trying to figure out what their digestive system is not accepting. It’s having Halal products on hand for the children who may need that. It’s understanding the difference between allergies, preferences and sensitivities. With no judgement, but instead going out of the way to serve every guest with equal care.
It is also about serving kids good food. Really. In foodservice, the “Kid’s Menu” has been cause for a base problem that has grown to untouchable heights. It has caused parents to not know how to cook for their own families. Yes, it is true, that as children go through growth stages their palates change and sensitivities to textures ebb and flow. We all know that there are many times we just need them to eat something! Whenever possible, I refuse to serve things that would be commonly found on a child’s plate whether at home or in a restaurant. They will get enough hot dogs in their lives that I don’t need to add to that tally. Don’t get me wrong, I still serve my own kids hotdogs occasionally because some days just need less dishes or less time spent at the stove and more time spent with the family. There’s a time and a place. Parents often ask what I do for picky children and my first response is that they are only as picky as their guardians have allowed them to be. I’ll cater to a child’s needs if they are not eating, but usually there are other problems that have led to that concern. Together as a staff team we then make a healthy plan for that guest.
When people (no matter the age) are in an environment where they are eating together in community, things change. The true psychology behind our eating habits has been fascinating to learn and observe over the last seven years of cooking for people in a remote destination - a long-term stay type of culinary establishment. The impact of how and what we serve in our family-style dining hall is amazing. It has shaped how I create a menu and the quantities we produce. It has helped us value the time spent creating and serving the meals. It brings us back to the importance of the table and see that hospitality has a higher purpose. Anticipating each others needs can be done well when we realize the impact it could make.
Serving each other well no matter the age is true hospitality. To demonstrate that could be the beginning of culinary equality. It shouldn’t be convenient - it should require effort and care.