Lunch amidst back-to-school transition


Caleb Stipkovits

Students at South have noticed a decline in the variety of lunches. The food service industry was hit hard by COVID-19 supply chain impacts, making it difficult to maintain the options of pre-COVID lunches.

Ella Hoch Robinson, Staff Writer

The South High lunch line serves approximately 300 meals a day. Much of the organization, cooking, and sources are unknown to South students. This year, Covid has caused labor shortages and supply chain interruption, resulting in limited meal rotations. 

The South lunch line is governed by the district. Recipes, meals, and organization are regulated by the Minneapolis Public Schools Culinary & Wellness Services. However, the South High Lunch Coordinator Terri Ventry says, “I sometimes get to choose which fruits and vegetables [are served].”

The federal government sets nutritional guidelines that must be followed in order for schools to receive federal funding. Additionally, Minneapolis Public Schools have their own set of guidelines that encourage food to be sourced locally and bans some artificial ingredients. MPS nutritional regulations are some of the strictest in the country. The district works with local restaurants and farmers to create recipes with available ingredients.

Food is delivered to the central distribution center located in North Minneapolis. At the distribution center, food is processed, cooked, and packaged before being sent to the schools. Each school has a predetermined menu influenced by grade level, kitchen infrastructure, and nutritional guidelines. This year, some menu offerings have been changed due to labor shortages.

COVID-19 has dramatically impacted global supply chains, with one of the hardest-hit industries being food service. Bertrand Weber, the director of Culinary and Wellness Services at MPS explains, “We get an email from our pizza supplier saying pizza will not be available for the next month, our produce company cannot deliver to our schools, so all of a sudden we have no fruit or vegetables, and some of our disposable items have gone up 75% in cost. Every single week there is something [unavailable].”

At South, some students have noticed the comparatively limited rotation of meals. Senior Sofia Fish says, “Many students are aware that we are missing some key elements of our lunches and sometimes it feels like we get the same dish everyday.” Ventry adds, “I think everyone is missing the salad bar. [The] rotation is not as robust as it was.” According to Weber, shortages are expected to be resolved with the end of the pandemic and restoration of national labor shortages.

A noticeable element of the South lunch line is the solid color outfits the lunch staff wear daily. The district uses different color chef coats to help delineate each position in the kitchen. Terri Ventry, the lunch coordinator at South, wears green. The lead cooks wear red and the assistants wear black. Lead cook Dekeshia Tyus says the South lunch staff “Try to work together as a team.”

All of the people who work at the South lunch line are cooks outside of their jobs as well. Ventry is a baker, currently she is trying to figure out what Christmas cookies to make. Tyus says “As soon as I get home from this job cooking, I start cooking for my whole family.” Tyus has also taken inspiration from some of the mixtures she sees students creating, “Some of the kids put the sriracha sauce on their eggs. I tried it and now I do it myself. I learned from the kids on how to spice it up.”

When asked what they would like the South community to know about lunch, Ventry reminds students to wear a mask. She adds, “At some point we will be doing [student ID] numbers again.” Tyus answers, “I try to keep the kids happy and fed. I am serving a community.”