THE nasi lemak from a school canteen is not the same anymore.
Priced at RM1.50 per packet, you can get one small piece of sambal chicken and a quarter hard-boiled egg.
“It used to be a bigger piece of chicken, half a hard-boiled egg and a few very thin slices of cucumber,” a secondary school teacher said when she and I were having breakfast at a coffeeshop in Ipoh last Sunday.
She told me that the “new recipe” for the nasi lemak came after the school authorities rejected the canteen operator’s request to increase the price of food after the 6% GST (Goods and Services Tax) set in on April 1.
While the school authorities could accept the fact that there was an increase in the operator’s cost of doing business, the teacher said the students, on the other hand, have limited pocket money.
“They have an average of RM5 pocket money daily to buy food from the canteen.
“With the amount, the students also have to buy lunch when they stay back for activities,” she said, adding that any small increase of even 10sen would add to the financial problems for the students and their families who were mostly from the lower middle income bracket.
She said the school had also installed many water dispensers so the children could save on drinks.
Well, I salute the school for encouraging the children to drink more water without extra cost.
According to the teacher, a glass of artificially-flavoured drink costs 50sen.
While smaller portions of food and missing ingredients are not unusual as food vendors go all out to cut cost, a bigger concern or worry is that they may also go all out to compromise on the quality of the ingredients.
I have heard stories of food vendors using ingredients like recycled oil and also foodstuffs that have expired.
This is dangerous to the health of the consumers, especially schoolchildren who eat from the same canteen almost daily.
I do not dismiss the possibility of canteen operators compromising on the quality of the food.
As such, I hope the school authorities could keep an eye on the operators to prevent them from using inferior ingredients.
For instance, I heard of stories where operators use artificial flavouring for soup.
Unlike the past, where operators used to boil ikan bilis for the soup base, many operators these days will just use artificial flavouring to save cost, work load and time.
It is so sad that schoolgoing children are exposed to such unhealthy eating.
Perhaps the school authorities should make sure the ingredients are acceptable before they decide on whether to give out the tender to operate the canteen.
Pricing is important but the health of the children is more important.
Well, the school authorities may not be in a position to supervise food operators closely.
In that case, this is food for thought for parents with schoolgoing children.