Miss B’s American elementary school had a full-service cafeteria, run by paid school employees and with enough tables and benches to accommodate about half the school in one seating. Her Australian primary school has a canteen, run entirely by parent volunteers out of a space not much bigger than a regular-sized kitchen, with no seats whatsoever. Most days, the kids eat outside on the playground; when bad weather occasionally interferes, they eat in their classrooms.
When Miss B went back to school to start Term 3 in late July, I signed on to be a canteen volunteer. Once a week, usually on Thursday morning, I go in and spend a couple of hours cooking, cleaning, assembling, working the counter – whatever needs to be done to fill that day’s lunch orders, and provide a variety of freshly made snacks to sell at morning tea and lunch. The canteen offers a full menu of meals, snacks, drinks, and treats for sale to the student body, and as a new member of the school community, it’s a great way to get to know parents, children, and teachers.
Learning a foreign language is part of the ACT primary school curriculum, and each primary school teaches one of the group of languages offered. Miss B’s school teaches Japanese, and so activities that focus on Japanese culture are a big part of the school community. As part of this, about once every term one of the canteen mothers runs Sushi Day. And so this past week, in addition to making up trays of pizza bread (sliced bread spread with tomato paste and shredded cheese, then baked in the oven) and batches of muffins and all the other things I normally do on canteen duty, I also learned how to assemble sushi rolls. We made two kinds of filling: carrot and cucumber with egg, and tuna with lettuce, and then I got to try my hand at spreading sushi rice on nori, loading it with the right amount of filling, rolling it up with the sushi mat so that it would stay together, and cutting it into pieces to make up lunch orders or sell at the counter.