Why My Lunch is 80K

Canteen – Image taken from UNIS Hanoi Website

Everyone who has ever walked the open air halls of UNIS more than once has visited its canteen. It is the social hub of the student body, the geographical centerpiece of the school, the place where everyone goes to refuel after a long morning of learning. Inside, a warm, comforting atmosphere in the winter, and cool freshness during summer. Tables, microwaves, a counter from where food is served – all things normal in any school cafeteria. But behind the kitchen doors is a place few students has ever ventured, and the secrets of the canteen’s controversial food pricing has been kept behind closed doors – that is, until today, when we finally reveal to you the secrets of J&J’s seemingly ludicrous price of 80000 đ per set of lunch, as well as other similarly expensive prices for their other various products.

From a short survey within a Grade 9 Math Extended classroom, the students has decided that our cafeteria prices ranged from “moderately priced” (Yoav Shahar ‘9) to “too expensive” (Sue Jeong ‘9), and one anonymous student even claimed that “Ain’t nobody got money for that”; and these were just the responses that were appropriate for a school newspaper. So, it seems, our wallets do have to fork out just a “little” more money for our food compared to other schools in the region. But is it really J&J who has the blame? And is it really something we should complain about in the first place?
To answer these questions, I ventured to the mysterious B2 Operations building, where the greatest behind-the-scenes operations of our daily school life was controlled, to speak to the man who had the answers: Mr. Christopher Rhoda, Senior Operations Manager. (That’s a title if I’ve ever seen one)

After a rigorous pursuit, all roads pointed towards Mr. Rhoda. And from a single book, he explained everything. Behold, the “UNIS Food Safety Program” – 140 pages of food safety guidelines, drafted by UNIS, that our very own J&J must follow. Inside, a series of regulations and guidelines and example forms that dictate our food service: staff hygiene, rigorous preparation, cleaning, approved storing temperatures… but the most important of all, the “Approved Suppliers List” – The list that dictates our canteen prices.

Hanoi is, as you might know, a questionable place when it comes to food safety. Some restaurants can be downright revolting. Some places might just be dirty and dusty. Some places present a nice, clean front, masking their kitchens full of rats, cockroaches, … and then there is the food itself. Week-old meats, pesticide-sprayed vegetables, expired dairy… a daily dose of those meals would put anyone into danger of a good old-fashioned stomach ache, if not more severe.

So, UNIS, our responsible school, has decided to find approved suppliers, in all sorts of places, retail included. All these sources might be a little more expensive, but at least they are guaranteed to not hurt anyone – no pesticides, fresh products, packaged food… Let me ask you: Have you ever had a stomach ache from eating cafeteria food? In my 6 years here at UNIS, I certainly can’t remember a single incident of such. Perhaps it isn’t J&J that’s reaping the profits… it might be us; for an absence of food poisoning is a profit, even if you don’t realize it.

But that’s not all. The general consensus from both Mr. Rhoda and a few APAC students seems to be that our school’s pricing is actually quite average, if not lower. And it seems that our regulations are tougher/weirder than most schools too – for example, our canteen has to keep a sample of everything, everyday, in a freezer for 24 days (in perspective, a month) in case somebody gets sick, just so they can pull it out and test on it. Our school keeps records on every staff member who handles food; every cook has to be government certified, and everyone has to fill out a form if they get sick, detailing their illness.

Of course, this is just the tip of the iceberg (if not going just a little under the surface). When it comes to food, our school has kept many things secret. During the interview, Mr. Rhoda even mentioned a Food Safety Committee with a student on board, and the prestigious records of J&J (perhaps a story for another time). But for now, we must be content to know that there is a reason behind it all; J&J is in fact not holding a completely tyrannical monopoly over our food, we are in fact not suffering from J&J’s greed, and believe it or not, they actually want to keep us safe, if not forced to by UNIS. So, if you looked for an answer, here it is. But if you want to blame somebody for making you pay more, please don’t blame J&J – they really haven’t done anything besides being the front for the spotless kitchen that is our own, and all they did is keep your stomachs, and your number two’s, solid.