Goffman in the Lunch Room

May 12, 2013
Posted by Jay Livingston

One of my favorite quotes from Goffman’s Asylums (on my syllabus this semester) appears early on in the section on The Staff World
This contradiction, between what the institution does and what its officials must say it does, forms the basic context of the staff’s daily activity.
The semester is over, but I was reminded of that passage when I read a New York Times online article about school lunches.  An 11-year old kid had surreptitiously taken videos of what was actually served and compared these with the official menus
there is a disconnect between the wholesome meals described on school menus and the soggy, deep-fried nuggets frequently dished up in the lunchrooms.
Apparently, the contradiction Goffman mentions goes all the way down the staff hierarchy, even to the people dishing out school lunches.
On a day advertising “cheesy lasagna rolls with tomato basil sauce, roasted spinach with garlic and herbs,” for instance, Zachary is handed a plastic-wrapped grilled cheese sandwich on an otherwise bare plastic foam tray.

Salads devised by the Food Network chefs Rachael Ray and Ellie Krieger are similarly plagued by missing ingredients. On the day Ms. Ray’s “Yum-O! Marinated Tomato Salad” is listed, Zachary is served a slice of pizza accompanied by a wisp of lettuce.

The filmmaker, Zachary Maxwell (that’s a nom-de-vid) has edited his clips into a 20-minute documentary: “Yuck.”

You can read the Times story and see an excerpt here

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