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News

Electrical shutdown scheduled today, tomorrow

PG&E is installing new electrical service to the 400 Main St. development project today, which will require the temporary interruption of electric services to several businesses located on First, Main and State streets in downtown Los Altos. PG&a...

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Schools

Community support pays dividends

Community support pays dividends


As a recent cover story in The New York Times Magazine revealed, getting low-income students into college is not enough to close the achievement/income gap. The percentage of low-income students entering college who actually earn a degree lags far ...

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Community

War veteran to visit D.C. memorial on Honor Flight

War veteran to visit D.C. memorial on Honor Flight


Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
Los Altos resident and World War II vet Earl Pampeyan is preparing for an Honor Flight trip to Washington, D.C., next month.

Los Altos resident Earl Pampeyan is scheduled to fly to Washington, D.C., next month to vis...

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Sports

Making a splash

Making a splash


Courtesy of Clarke Weatherspoon
Stanford Water Polo Club’s under-14 boys team earned the bronze medal at the Junior Olympics. Front row, from left: Corey Tanis, Larsen Weigle, Nathan Puentes, Walker Seymour, Alan Viollier and Jayden Kunwar. B...

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Comment

Whom can you trust?: Haugh About That?

Waving my pink poodle skirt with all the fervor of a matador preparing to tease a raging bull, I blinked my 20-year-old eyes and gave a come-hither look to indicate, “I’m ready!” Little did I know that the blind trust I had in this ...

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Special Sections

Getting right by eating right: PAMF doctor's book addresses South Asian health risks

Getting right by eating right: PAMF doctor's book addresses South Asian health risks


Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
Dr. Ronesh Sinha, a physician at Palo Alto Medical Foundation, promotes healthful living among the South Asian population. His new book, “The South Asian Health Solution,” includes nutritious recipes.

When you think o...

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Business

From Google to First Street: Massage therapist sets up studio in downtown Los Altos

From Google to First Street: Massage therapist sets up studio in downtown Los Altos


Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
Upuia Ahkiong is slated to open Kua Body Studios next month at 106 First St. Ahkiong is sharing space with Evolve Classical Pilates.

A massage therapist with ties to Google Inc. is slated to open a new – and shared...

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Books

"Jack London" chronicles author's adventurous life


Much has been written about American author Jack London, primarily known for his early-20th-century Western adventure novels, including the classics “White Fang” and “The Call of the Wild.”

In Earle Labor’s biography of the literary icon, “Jac...

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People

TIMOTHY WARREN WATSON (TIM)

TIMOTHY WARREN WATSON (TIM)

Born June 2, 1935, died peacefully on August 11, at home in Mountain View, surrounded by his family. He died of complications of Parkinson’s Disease after a courageous 15-year battle.

Tim was the beloved husband of 55 years to his college sweethea...

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Travel

Bergama bound: A visit to newest World Heritage site

Bergama bound: A visit to newest World Heritage site


Photo Eren GÖknar/ Special to the Town Crier
The amphitheater in Turkey’s ancient city of Pergamon, now known as Bergama, overlooks the Bakirçay River valley, left. The city’s ruins also include the Temple of Trajan.

It was 90 F during t...

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Stepping Out

TheatreWorks offers 'Spoonful' of drama beginning this week

TheatreWorks offers 'Spoonful' of drama beginning this week


Kevin Berne/Special to the Town Crier
Three strangers – “Chutes & Ladders” (Anthony J. Haney, left), Odessa (Zilah Mendoza, center) and “Orangutan” (Anna Ishida, right) – come together in an online support group in TheatreWorks’ regional premie...

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Spiritual Life

Spiritual Briefs

Meditation group meets at Foothills Congregational

A Weekly Meditation Practice group meets 7-8:15 a.m. Tuesdays at Foothills Congregational Church, 461 Orange Ave., Los Altos.

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Magazine

Festival features fun for everyone

Festival features fun for everyone


TOWN CRIER FILE PHOTO
The Los Altos Arts & Wine Festival boasts more than 375 craft and arts booths.

This weekend’s 35th annual Los Altos Arts & Wine Festival promises to be jam-packed with fun activities for just about everyone. The eve...

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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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