Sunday, September 5, 2010

Food Service Stories

For almost the entire time I attended UC Berkeley, I worked, in one capacity or another, for the UC Food Services.  I washed dishes (big bucks 1.75/ hour when minimum wage was 1.25).For one job, I worked in a tiny dish room and exclusively sorted huge containers of silverware.  As we managed it, the silverware  was quickly taken off of the plate and dumped into some kind of green slime.  The slime removed all the food and grease. As it turned out, it also removed our skin as I recall a lot of skin peeling off of my hands. We probably had gloves but you can't sort very fast wearing gloves. I became extremely fast. I could do it without looking.  I put the forks, knives and spoons into little containers. You know, you pick your silver out of these containers in self serve restaurants.  Ever wonder how clean silverware gets into these containers?  Well, I'm here to tell you.

I was quite a whiz at this.  I imagine I was about 19 at the time and we had fun working in this steamy room with very loud dish machines. One vivid memory is about a popular song: "On Woverton Mountain".  You can hear it on the link below.   For some reason, we  4 young men decided that we liked to sing this song at the absolute top of our lungs. Because the machines were so loud nobody but the 4 of us could hear us singing. We loved the chorus "On Woverton Mounnnntain!.  We did this night after night.

 So, since I'm telling Food Service stories, I must share another . This time, I am working in the big on-campus cafeteria dish room. Yes, I'm a versatile fellow. At this location, I did not do silver. I worked at the end of a conveyor belt. Students would put their trays of dirty dishes on a belt and it would disappear. Ah, but where does it go.

In my workplace, I stood at the foot of a belt that was descending from the roof about 12 feet above us. We stood in front of these extremely huge (and probably dangerous) garbage disposals. They had openings big enough to accept an entire dinner dish. We particularly liked to drop ceramic gravy boats into the machines. The disposals were powerful and they would just glurp them up in about 1 second.

I worked next to a student from China. He was continuously amazed at home much food we were dumping. We worked at a very fast pace and if we didn't keep up, the belt would just throw things all over the room. If we got totally behind we could stop the belt, but a very loud alarm would ring. We rarely stopped it.  My Chinese co-worker selectively picked out his lunch each day as plates of half eaten food came down the ramp.  He had a little spot and he would pick out things he liked and then eat them.

Now to my delicate  sensibilities this was strange. He was eating food destined for the great mouth of the disposal. Germs, I thought. Ick. Germs.  Now, here I should pause to tell you that I grew up in a very germ phobic home. My dad had had TB, so our entire family practiced very careful germ management. (I didn't know why we did this until I was 13 years old and my dad had a recurrence.)
We never ate or nibbled off of one another, drank from a "dirty" glass... you get the picture.

Now fast forward to me the-clean-germ-phobe. I am literally up to my elbows in garbage for 2 hours every day. I even was occasionally  assigned to scrub out garbage cans . How did I overcome my fears. What therapy helped me!  Pretty simple, if I didn't do the work, they would not give me my $1.75/hour.  Also, I developed my germ-cancellation theory. I designed this theory my very first day on the job.  Here is the theory: "There are so many bad germs in this pile of garbage that they are killing each other and therefore if I just wash my hands at the end of my shift, I'll be fine." I did wash my hands and I was fine. By the way, my Chinese associate was also fine.


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