It’s not only school cafeterias that have abysmal nutrition standards — corporate cafeterias are just as bad. Many of the arguments aroud improving nutrition in schools are based around the idea that it is a cost-effective investment because it will pay off in reduced health care expenditures decades from now. The current state of corporate cafeterias demonstrates how hard it is going to be for that reasoning to be persuasive. The link between nutrition and health insurance costs is far more immediate for a company and its workers than for society and its schoolchildren, yet most companies do not see that as a reason to ensure healthy foods are sold on their premises.
I’ve worked in a variety of places that have had on-site cafeterias, from struggling state governments to prosperous defense contractors, and the food has been uniformly unhealthy. At the low end, the cafeterias have been serviced by the same monopolies that service our public schools, with the same French bread pizzas and runny-spaghetti-served-with-a-buttered-roll that I remember from my childhood. At the high end, like the comparatively swank facility where I currently work, the food is fresh and appealing but is still a heart attack on a tray. Frequent daily specials are fresh-made cheesesteaks served with fries, overflowing taco salads, and stuffed quesadillas. Each day offers at least 5 different options of greasy Chinese food and a pizza bar. What I find so disheartening about it is that it’s not for lack of funds or access to fruits or vegetables; they just choose to prepare the food unhealthily. Each day I see beautiful vegetables swimming in oil, butter, mayonnaise, or covered in pounds of cheese. They have meat from real, whole roasts, hams, and turkey slowly drowning in an inch of grease. They even have fresh shrimp and, I kid you not, CRABS in the buffet, only smothered in oil and butter.
In each place I’ve worked, there have been a few healthy options if you choose carefully. Out of the pile of sad salads offered daily where I work now, there is one variety they make that actually offers more than a few croutons and a handful of cheese dropped on top of some iceberg (also popular: the same, with a big scoop of tuna salad on top). There’s also a perfunctory salad bar and fresh fruit for sale and one can order a healthy sandwich from the deli if you bypass their suggestions and stick with something like turkey on wheat.
Still, a cafeteria that is serving crabs is obviously not hurting for money or access to fresh, nutrient-rich food. This is a sign that companies view their cafeterias as a cost not tied to the rest of their business and nutrition is not yet seen as something linked to employee well-being or their health care expenses.
Photo by MBK (Marjie)