By Ernesto Perez Castillo (Progreso Weekly)
HAVANA TIMES – Lunch will be lunch until proven otherwise. Everyone desires to eat it on time, and nice and warm. But to dream, no matter what you call it, is costly, and sometimes dreaming can cost way too much.
The lunch I speak of came to mind when I heard Cuba’s Minister of Education say that starting September 2nd more than 1.7 million students would be attending classes this year. I thought of those students’ lunches and how much it would cost to feed them.
The minister’s figure covers primary, secondary and almost everything that follows and up to the university level, but as a rule, only students up to 6th Grade receive school lunches. A few years back that number was about 800,000 students, according to the Office of National Statistics. The number is probably higher now, but I’ll use it to speculate.
Truth is that only those students who reside too far from school receive lunch every school day, so for this kind of quick study, let us reduce that number to 500,000 children, which rounds it nicely and allows for easier calculations.
So, basing it on a very low estimate… let’s say lunch costs one Cuban peso per student, which represents 500,000 Cuban pesos a day. (1 peso = 0.05 USD)
And what are we feeding our kids? I asked my son, my daughter and one of their friends who explained that they eat rice every day; there’s always some kind of stew with some sort of bean or split pea, and occasionally a piece of ham or some ground beef, but rarely do they get a potato or root vegetable, and once in a blue moon they might see a vegetable or fruit.
But my son complains that he doesn’t like the lunch they are served, so does my daughter and their friend, and most everyone else, for that matter. I am not surprised: schools cook everything with only salt; there’s not a green pepper, or an onion, not even a garlic clove to throw in the casserole. Not a thing to give the meal some flavor.
Sure, there will always be the one student who eats everything on his tray and then requests seconds, but most others, as soon as they can, throw out their lunch. Let us not generalize and say that only half throw their lunch away. That is 250,000 lunches tossed, or 250,000 pesos that are thrown out daily.
If we estimate about 20 class days monthly, this comes to 5 million pesos a month. Multiply that by 10 months and we are talking about 50 million pesos discarded in the trash, which translates to about US $2 million a year. In pesos or dollars, it’s wasteful, and scary.
Shouldn’t we consider a solution to this problem? And I am not suggesting suspension of lunches, but quite the opposite… what about improving them. How about investing a bit more on school lunches instead of throwing money away on a daily basis?
Yes, it would be more costly, but we would be wasting less; and on top of that, our children would be better fed. The other option is to keep doing what we are doing. In other words, close our eyes to the piles of money being wasted yearly on school lunches, whatever that real dollar figure might be, where tons of rice and beans end up in the trash bin.