Marcellin College Randwick is a proud Catholic institution renowned for many things: a conveyor-belt production of professional rugby league players; its cultivation of former McDonald’s CEO Charlie Bell; its 92-year history of strong catholic tradition including the mighty, daily dong of the Angelus Bell; and perhaps most infamously, its delectable sausage roll-on-a-roll.
Certain traditions become ingrained in the culture of school, and are passed on from one generation to the next. In this sense, the sausage roll-on-a-roll could be considered a dreaded heirloom of malnourishment. A cursed rite of passage. Strolling through the Marcellin courtyard during lunch hour, one would have witnessed students salivate as they eyed their flaky meat-filled pastries drowned in tomato sauce and crammed into a doughy seeded bun. The fearless would have topped the bread roll with an extra dollop of red paste, before gripping it in both hands and stretching their mouths beyond normal parameters to accommodate the iconic fat-laden concoction. Were this eaten anywhere but a schoolyard, an observing heart-surgeon would likely have begun sharpening their artery-scraper.
But times have changed. In 2014, Marcellin College abolished its old canteen system. It took six months to renovate the relatively cruddy and rudimentary facilities and, for the first time in its history, it elected to outsource operations to Total Canteen Solutions: a company whose annual revenue is listed as $4.13 million. As of February this year, the Marcellin College canteen ceased to be a part of the school community – it became little more than a corporate appendage.
In recent decades, the emphasis on health and wellbeing in school canteens has increased drastically. Public schools are required by law to follow certain dietary guidelines. Catholic and private schools are “strongly encouraged” to follow suit. The government initiative involves placing foods into three distinguishable categories. The first is “green”, or foods with the highest nutritional value, like fruit and vegetables. The second is “amber”, or foods that are less nutritious and recommended for occasional consumption, like snack-food bars and processed meats. The third is “red”, or foods with no nutritional content whatsoever, like sweetened drinks and chocolate bars. Significantly, in 2006, sweetened drinks were banned from all government schools.
Despite the ostensible simplicity of this system, the traffic-light scheme doesn’t just aim to push green foods and outlaw the red ones. It also sets out to adorn healthy eating options and present them as viable and enjoyable lifestyle choices for young children and teenagers. Methods such as selling combo deals – which might consist of a reduced-fat pie, with a reduced-fat milk, and a piece of fruit – are common. It’s a strategy, rather than a doctrine.
Brother David Hall was the headmaster responsible for the reinvention of the Marcellin canteen. He is also one of the most revered and beloved school principles ever appointed, and now works for the Australian Catholic University. Despite his new role, his unfaltering passion for the college is clear. He expressed his profound affinity with Marcellin before explaining his decision.
“We weren’t delivering on very healthy menus for kids. We weren’t delivering on variety. We wanted to offer a healthy balance in what we eat,” he told The Newsroom. “But I had no intention of outsourcing it originally.”
Then why not educate the existing staff, led by Deborah Moore, who was a beloved fixture of the Marcellin community, rather than hiring an external company?
“That’s a good question,” he replied. “And I did consider it. But to educate our existing staff requires ongoing training. If you employ your own staff, educating them is the school’s responsibility. If you take someone else on, it’s theirs.”
Brother David pointed out that the decision was not a financial one, since the school was “making less profit” since they forfeited their ownership of the canteen.
Though Brother David’s intentions are sound and commendable, the scheme has not proven as universally popular as he might have hoped.
Tom Seddon is a Year 9 student who eats at the canteen regularly: he expressed feelings of detachment with the new regime.
“It’s really good food, but too expensive for juniors to afford. It’s overpriced. There’s not many snacks to pick from,” he told The Newsroom.
How did he feel about Deb being ousted?
“I don’t see any reason why they should’ve gotten rid of her – she was heaps good,” he said.
“She would have a convo with the students, have a joke here and there. The new people barely even talk to us. They just tell us what we owe them.”
Tom explained that if kids forgot their lunch money or their lunch, Deb would provide them with food. “She cared for us,” he said. This sort of generosity is unfathomable now.
As part of the agreement with Total Canteen Solutions, the affordable and convenient vending machines were banished from the school, meaning children have been forced to pay top dollar for their food and drink.
“People used to use the vending machine to get a pack of chips for $2; now it’s $2.50 from the new canteen. It’s too expensive,” Tom said.
To some, the price differential might sound insignificant, but to the kids, it matters. Marcellin College is not a private school, it is more Degrassi High than Gossip Girl’s St Jude’s. Students and families tend to have strict budgets.
Tom’s mother, Tina Seddon, was a volunteer at the canteen for many years. However, along with the other mothers who volunteered their services, she has refused to work for the new outfit. Though the new canteen owners do pay their employees a full salary, they still expected volunteers to work, and do the same job, completely unpaid. Needless to say, this was not received warmly.
“A lot of parents were unhappy. They’re only going to volunteer and donate their own time for the school, not some company,” Ms Seddon told The Newsroom.
This is not just about the importance of providing healthy foods in schools. This is a question of tradition, the spirit and intangible value of an institution being sacrificed for form and function. Like the fans of Southampton football club responding to the news of their historic Dell stadium being demolished in favour of a bigger, better, shinier new playing ground – brand new stadiums are plastic, they said. Soulless. When is it time to move on? To forget the memories, the warm-hearted conveniences, and traditions to which we are inextricably linked?
Fortunately Brother David understands this conflict better than anyone. He imposed stipulations for the new guardians of the school canteen.
“I’m all for sausage roll-on-a-rolls – I ate many myself,” he said. “We still sell them, but we purchase sausage rolls with a tick of approval. I’ve even insisted that sauce bottles are used, rather than sachets, so that boys can use the quantity they require.”
Brother David understands that it’s time for change – but more importantly, he understands the indefinable value of time-honoured tradition. Certain things are embedded in the seams of a school, they are interminable icons, surviving the seas of change, and impervious to the pressures of forward progress.
Some things will never be scratched off the menu. – Sergio Magliarachi
Top photo by Jessica Heckley