Comparing the College Cafeteria to Dinning below the Poverty Line

Comparing the College Cafeteria to Dinning below the Poverty Line

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Comparing the College Cafeteria to Dinning below the Poverty Line


At the beginning of every school year I have to decide whether to get the $6000 carte blanche meal plan or the next smallest $5900 meal plan because I am required to have one of these two options as an on campus student. It's not a tough decision to go with the carte blanche because it is only $100 more for many more meals. The worst part is writing the check and imaging the money being moved from my account. But for the people of Jubilee Partners, a Christian intentional community in rural Georgia, meals have a much different focus.

The people of Jubilee Partners intentionally live below the poverty line so that they will not have to pay federal taxes, a portion of which goes into the defense fund. This is just one of the many ways that they choose to live differently from the rest of the world. The thirty residents take turns to make the food that is eaten at their communal meals. During my stay I helped three Central American girls prepare an evening meal. As it was an evening meal, we were allowed to make something new rather than just use leftovers. Lunch always consisted of the preceding nights leftovers, fresh salad from the garden, bread, cheese, and peanut butter. If there were no leftovers, as there often were not, we only ate salad, bread, cheese, and peanut butter.

As I looked around the small, simple kitchen, I wondered where were the large stainless steal pots and shiny stove that I was familiar with. The girls instructed me in broken English that I should make bread. With flour-covered arms I mixed and kneaded the dough in an old plastic bowl and smiled as I listened to the excited laughter and rapid Spanish that I could not understand. As Gabby showed me how to roll and form the loaves, I watched as the others make lasagna with synthetic meat from a government surplus. Meat was rare at Jubilee as it was expensive and much of the food they ate came from a food bank. Meat night, which was held once a week, was a special occasion anticipated by many.

Standing in line in the Goshen College cafeteria, I examine the array of food spread before me trying to decide what I want. I had glanced at the menu board as my id was scanned but still am not sure what I am hungry for.

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Do I want the pizza, meatloaf, mash potatoes, green beans, corn, or pasta from the hot line? Or would I rather have a cheeseburger, chicken patty, or grilled cheese from the grill line? Or maybe a salad, bagel, soup, or cereal would be more to my liking.

After the prayer, the people of Jubilee formed a line behind a single table filled with food. Children headed for the front of the line as the adults indulgently stood back and talked. The lasagna and bread were a success and those who had already finished looked at the line and wondered if there would be enough for seconds. There was no desert that night as it is only a weekly event. So the meal was accompanied only by water. No one seemed to mind as they showered compliments on us chefs. The Central American girls glowed with pride as their first attempt at cooking since coming to Jubilee met with success and I flashed a satisfied smile because my bread turned out well.

I notice that the cafeteria line is getting longer. Maybe I'll try the mash potatoes. After I ladled myself a heaping amount I decide to skip the meatloaf and grab a piece of pizza. Taking my tray I head for the drink station where I wade through the people who are gathered around the pop dispensers and juice machines and gradually make my way to the milk section where I decide on skim rather than two percent or chocolate. Next it's off to the desert table where I pick up a large piece of cake with chocolate frosting and then I head toward the table where my friends are sitting.

The noise in the main eating area grew softer as the children ran off to play and only the adults were left talking. I wiped my hands on my jeans because there were no napkins. I carried my plate, cup, and silverware to the kitchen and scraped off the little that was left into a bucket, which would later be fed to the chickens. The room where the dishes were washed and stored was long and narrow. I handed my utensils to the smiling people who would hand wash the dishes that evening. Pleasantly full, I went back to the table for more enjoyable conversation.

The meal I ate in the cafeteria was standard. After making a trip to the grill line to pick up a cheeseburger because the mash potatoes were lumpy and the pizza sauce too sweet, I carried my tray to the dish return. A plate full of uneaten rich and nourishing food, numerous crumpled napkins, and a red plastic basket cover my tray. My tray joins other similarly laden trays as I set it on the ledge, toss my silverware in a rectangular container, and throw my napkins in the trash. I scan the rack of fruit and grab a banana to eat later because I will probably be hungry. As I walk out, I complain good-naturedly that that there was nothing to eat tonight and I can't wait until next year when I can get a smaller meal plan.
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