I don’t know exactly how many people live at my camp. At our busiest time, there are around 600 children. The total number of staff is somewhere in the region of 400, which seems enormous. But even if you look at just one of those figures, it’s a lot of people to feed three times daily.
Food in a foreign country is always an interesting experience: having been to the US several times prior to my first trip to camp, I knew I was in for sugary bread, a bizarre way of drinking tea (honey and no milk?!) and possibly a lot of junk. The camp I work at is actually pretty progressive – you can eat as much as you want (oh, America), but there’s also a self-service salad bar at lunch and dinner, as well as fresh fruit and other cold cuts and self-serve items at breakfast.
The diet is pretty restricted: when you’re catering for this many people, there are a huge number of dietary desires which mean that certain items just aren’t an option (that and undoubtedly they’re considered too expensive). As a result, the only times I’ll eat anything decent which has come from the sea this summer will be on my days off (we very occasionally get fish sticks or small pieces of battered cod, and there’s tuna on the salad bar, but you can absolutely forget about any kind of shellfish). I’m spoiled in terms of meat anyway – I grew up in a village which is home to a fantastic butcher – but most of the meat at camp is terrible. At both lunch and dinner every day, there is what’s known as the “alternate line” – a counter which serves as many burgers and hot dogs as a child or member of staff desires (I’ve seen kids loaded up with multiple hot dogs and burgers at individual meals), as well as serving veggie burgers (which are actually really good if it’s a chickpea burger day rather than a black bean burger day). At breakfast, the alternate line serves pancakes.
The main line tends to serve either chicken or beef pot roast, plus a selection of sides. There are a few variations on the theme: some days we’ll get (horrible) pizza or grilled cheese sandwiches (which I’ve not once touched); other days we’ll get something which looks like it hasn’t come out of our very own kitchen. My top three food days are as follows:
- Taco day: incredibly popular, and always causes a huge queue at the condiment section of the salad bar (guacamole! Grated cheese! Sour cream! Salsa! Condiment heaven). We get mince, rice, wraps and it’s generally a day I accidentally overindulge. The only thing missing is a sombrero (and a grown up drink or five)
- Moroccan/Greek day: this is a combination of wraps and Souvalaki – chicken, hash browns (which are referred to for the mealtime as “potato pancakes”), thick wraps and again, many condiments. Tzatziki, hummous, chickpeas, lettuce and cheese
- Thai day: still feels sadly lacking in seafood, and is always greasier than you’d like it to be, but we get egg noodles, fried things with sweet and sour sauce, things in black bean sauces… essentially, a selection of pick and mix food, which is my kind of heaven
I’m trying not to get my hopes up, but I generally feel like the food has improved on last summer. There was a half-hearted experiment at risotto very early on which I’d quite like to see again. I’d be happy never to see pot roast ever again, or Event Chicken (but what’s new there?). But the really bad things about camp are all related to breakfast:
- Eggs: I work with horses, meaning I need a good start to the day with a strong bit of protein. I love eggs. Poached eggs are a particular favourite (if you’re out there, Prince Charming, learn to poach an egg before you come and find me), but I’ll happily hoover up boiled, fried or scrambled. The eggs at camp are powdered. It’s a bit like eating a slipper. There’s a rotation of things which are mixed with the powdered eggs to make them more palatable (tomatoes, diced peppers, spring onions or cheese), but they still look like a sponge
- Meat: America, we need to talk about your abomination of sausage and bacon. Bacon should not be sliced with a cheese wire and rendered transparent. Even “Canadian bacon” is not good enough. No, sir. Danish or British or not at all. Please and thank you. In addition, sausages are more than pieces of gristle which are the size of a toddler’s finger. They should also not be served in a burger or “patty” style. That is not a sausage. Sausages are enormous, juicy and wonderful (NB: those plastic frankfurter things which you shove in buns and think count? Also not a sausage)
- Fried French toast sticks: yes, they exist. They look like fish fingers. They taste absolutely foul. They have less than zero nutritional value. They must be stopped
Overall, it’s far better than I expected. I thought the food at camp would be vile, but there are many opportunities to make good choices and consume a huge quantity of well-prepared vegetables (or fruit, if you’re into that, which I’m not). But I miss that side of being a grown up – making my own choices, eating whatever my heart desires… and not being surrounded by 600 children in the process.