Tue09162014

News

Council approves directional signs for Los Altos' Woodland Plaza

Council approves directional signs for Los Altos' Woodland Plaza


Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
The Los Altos City Council last week approved the installation of two new directional signs on Foothill Expressway pointing motorists to the Woodland Plaza Shopping District.

The Los Altos City Council voted unanimou...

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Schools

New head of curriculum’s ideologies align with LASD

New head of curriculum’s ideologies align with LASD


Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
Edsel Clark, new Los Altos School District assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, above, facilitates a junior high mathematics curriculum meeting last week.

Edsel Clark, Ed.D., new assistant superintend...

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Community

Closing reception caps Foothill photo show on rural China

Closing reception caps Foothill photo show on rural China


From IncredibleTravelPhotos.com
Jacque Kae’s “Mischievous” is one of the many photographs on display at Foothill College this month.

Photographs of the land and culture of Huangshan and Zhangjiajie, China, are on exhibit through Sept. 26 at t...

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Sports

Spartans shine in opener

Spartans shine in opener


Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
Mountain View High’s Frank Kapp snares a touchdown pass from quarterback Owen Mountford in Friday’s win.

Leading by a point at halftime, the Mountain View High football team outscored visiting Del Mar 20-0 the rest of...

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Comment

A look ahead to the Nov. 4 election: Editorial

Election season is upon us. In Los Altos, we have three major local races ahead – two seats on the Los Altos City Council, and three seats each on the Los Altos School District and Mountain View-Los Altos Union High School District boards of tr...

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Special Sections

Renovation complete,  Villa Siena looks to future

Renovation complete, Villa Siena looks to future


Above and Below Photos Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier; Left Photo Courtesy of Villa Siena
Villa Siena in Mountain View recently underwent a $35 million face-lift. The five-year project expanded their senior living community’s space and ability to serv...

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Business

Transitioning from postage to pets

Transitioning from postage to pets


Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
A new Pet Food Express store is scheduled to open at the Blossom Valley Shopping Center this month.

A site that previously existed to meet postal service needs will soon have an entirely different purpose – serving pe...

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Books

‘The Humans’ transcends alien genre to glean human insights

‘The Humans’ transcends alien genre to glean human insights


A good story about aliens is always great fun to read – after all, it’s only by attempting to understand the human race from another perspective that we can see ourselves more objectively.

But readers who might be tempted to dismiss ye...

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People

JEANNE PACKARD

After suffering a stroke in May, Jeanne Packard died August 10, 2014 at age 83. She was born in 1931 in Berlin, Germany, the only child of Emily Channel and Frank Howe Packard of Chicago, IL. Jeanne is survived by 5 great grandchildren. She was a lon...

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Travel

LA photographer spends a night with cranes – and moose – in Alaska

LA photographer spends a night with cranes – and moose – in Alaska


Sandy Powell/Special to the Town Crier
Los Altos resident and bird photographer Sandy Powell recently visited Homer, Alaska, to photograph Sandhill cranes, below. While there, Powell also encountered moose, left.

Los Altos resident Sandy Powell, a...

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Stepping Out

'Trailer Park' opens in Los Altos

'Trailer Park' opens in Los Altos


Courtesy of Los
The cast of Los Altos Stage Company’s “The Great American Trailer Park Musical” includes, from left, Mylissa Malley as Lin, Vanessa Alvarez as Betty, and Christina Bolognini as Pickles. Altos Stage Company

Los Altos Stage Company...

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Spiritual Life

9/11 survivor Michael Hingson finds purpose

Imagine walking down 78 flights of stairs – 1,463 individual steps. You are in imminent danger as you walk, unsure whether you can make it out of the building before it collapses or explodes. Struggling for each breath, you smell the heavy sten...

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Magazine

Los Altos Hills home showcases resort-inspired living

Los Altos Hills home showcases resort-inspired living


Courtesy of Spectrum Interior Design
In place of a more traditional fireplace, this modern living room features a linear-flame firebox that emits heat while offering a sculpturelike design element.

After traveling the world and visiting a host...

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Eating equality in Los Altos


Photos by Eliza Ridgeway/Town Crier
Los Altos High students wait in line for lunch, including the crowd-favorite barbecue chicken.

The Town Crier recently sent a reporter to join the lunch line at Los Altos High School’s cafeteria. Eavesdropping on student commentary reflected a mélange of satisfaction and discontent.

“The chicken looks hella good.”

“This looks like jail food.”

Why did we return to the steam trays of our youth? A food fight is underway – again – at Los Altos High. A food truck has set up shop behind the school’s tennis courts for years, raising the ire of residents on Jardin Drive and drawing heat for selling items like sodas that are banned from campus eateries. Nearby restaurant owners who would like a piece of the students’ lunch money also rankle at the idea of a competitor who doesn’t pay the same licensing fees they do.

In response to these concerns, the Los Altos City Council is drafting an ordinance limiting where food trucks can roam in residential areas. The trucks are already restricted in Mountain View, which requires them to park more than 100 feet from schools.

Los Altos High operates three food venues for students: a pizza cart run by the Parent Teacher Student Association, a snack bar also staffed by parents and a full-service cafeteria that offers hot meals, sandwiches and salads.

Making a foray down the food line, the Town Crier learned more about the cafeteria that competes with the popular truck.

A national system with local flavor

More than 30 million children eat in cafeterias as part of the National School Lunch Program, governed by a complex series of state and federal rules. The government encourages children to eat fewer calories and substitute more fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Those goals are accomplished by an arcane sequence of rules that Los Altos High Food Services Director Debra Godfrey reviews each year. Health advocates have helped shape the rules, but so have lobbyists for groups like the National Potato Council.

Godfrey tracks student preferences each year and knows that nachos, the fajita bowl and barbecue chicken typically draw a crowd. Hot dogs turn out to be the sleeper favorite, disappearing with surprising speed.

Godfrey designs meals to fit the rules and a tight budget, but she’s fierce about taking pride in the taste of her food. Silicon Valley tech firms call it “dogfooding” when a company samples its own product. Staff at Los Altos High stick by that rule, too.

“I’m not going to serve you anything I’m not going to eat,” Godfrey said.

The cafeteria staff plans a monthly menu and posts it at mvla.org. Barbecue chicken, baked beans, corn on the cob and biscuits were on the menu when the Town Crier visited. The chicken wings were cooked to perfection, the corn was a tad overcooked, the biscuits were reasonably fluffy and the beans lived up to the sticky-sweet standard of those that come from a can.

“I eat on campus when I don’t bring my lunch. I love the potato bar and the fajita bowl,” said Avis Doctor, director for fiscal services at Los Altos High. “We want it to taste good and look good.”

Doing the lunchtime math

Doctor monitors how much money students contribute and how much the district spends to keep the food coming. The school continually adds new dishes to chase student palates, such as smoothies, hot wings, cheesecake and breadsticks. Federal bulk-food shipments provide a baseline from which the lunch ladies can improvise.

“I look at what we can get and then calculate what else to add,” Godfrey said.

If the government provides ground beef at a vast discount, she can add sour cream, green onions and jalapeños to enhance the taste and appearance. In a best-case financial scenario, guacamole might even make the list.

The more students eat in the cafeteria, the more subsidized commodities the federal government allocates to the school – freeing up money to spend on special extras like guacamole. The federal shipments help Los Altos High serve food at a discount to students, but the kitchen staff rules out some of it for not being worth the loss of taste.

Godfrey described turning down the government’s alarming-sounding “Beef Crumble” because it was so horrid she wouldn’t eat it herself – and thus wouldn’t serve it. Some quick research revealed that the Crumble is precooked ground beef cut with soy protein, frozen and shipped in cases throughout the country.

The five-item hot meal costs $3, but students from families with incomes at or below 130 percent of the poverty level are eligible for free meals. Those with incomes between 130 and 185 percent of the poverty level are eligible for reduced-price meals at 40 cents. The government supplies subsidies for all students eating lunches, ranging from $2.93 for students who pay nothing to 28 cents for the students who pay $3.

“If you need to eat, come to us. No one gets turned down if they don’t have 40 cents,” Godfrey said. “That’s why we can never let this go – and it’s not even just the students with reduced price. (Students) get a lot for $3.”

That price covers the ingredients for the hot meal, which cost approximately 60 cents the day we visited, in addition to the expense of operating the kitchen. Los Altos High sources its produce locally from a Mountain View-based supplier that offers fruits and vegetables at a lower price than their main supplier, SYSCO, the food corporation behind much of the nation’s institutional fare.

Godfrey has reigned over the kitchens at Los Altos and Mountain View high schools for 17 years and has seen many changes during that time. She and Doctor reminisced about the cafeterias of their youth, with white-clad lunch ladies in hairnets and perpetually lukewarm milk. The milk at Los Altos High nestles in a refrigerated case.

Stripping away class markers

You can come to know a student body through what they eat. The economics of the lunch hall reflect the region’s hollow structure, with wealthy families, the very poor and few in between. Approximately 90 percent of the students who apply for subsidized meals at Los Altos High qualify for entirely free lunches rather than the subsidized middle ground.

School lunches are about more than flavor, personal preference or even nutrition standards. The cafeteria system as students know it was carefully designed to help supply meals for children who don’t always get enough to eat at home. Although many students at Los Altos High may have family money to spend downtown or at the food truck, not all do. The breakfasts and lunches on campus aren’t intended as just a convenience for people too busy to pack a lunch bag. A seldom-spoken part of the school lunch debate relates to affluence and the idea that mealtimes shouldn’t be segregated by cost.

Anyone who stood in line as a child from a poor family remembers the systems of the past, when every status-conscious student could see who was paying with the differently colored “subsidized” discount card. The government now audits how cafeterias structure their payment systems, attempting to make sure that a parent’s income isn’t obviously flagged.

At Los Altos High’s cafeteria, all students type in their ID at checkout. For some, that triggers a hidden discount. Others just tap into the money parents have deposited to their account. At the PTSA pizza stand or the taco truck, only cash secures a meal.

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