By Doug Scott 2017-06-15 10:17:07
WHEN CURIOUS AND COMMITTED SCHOOL NUTRITION DIRECTORS gathered together in Chicago in October 1946 for the first annual convention of a newly formed association, the highlighted topics of workshops were not very different than the ones the current generation of school nutrition professionals will explore in Atlanta this summer at SNA’s 71st Annual National Conference (ANC). Employee training. Equipment trends. Proper portion sizes. New ideas in meal preparation. Centralized food production. Sound familiar? But if you stepped in a time machine to travel back to 1946, you’d find many other aspects of life to be quite different. A gallon of gas was 21 cents. There were only two television channels. The American flag had only 48 stars (still missing Alaska and Hawaii). Tupperware had only just been invented. Just 30% of Americans believed that whites and blacks should attend the same schools. On June 4, 1946, President Harry S. Truman signed the Richard B. Russell National School Lunch Act into law, establishing the National School Lunch Program as “a measure of national security to safeguard the health and well-being of the nation’s children and to encourage the domestic consumption of nutritious agricultural commodities…[through] the establishment, maintenance, operation and expansion of nonprofit school lunch programs.” This policy milestone led to the official merger of two foodservice associations—the National School Cafeteria Association and the Conference of Food Service Directors—into one. Members from both organizations, as well as unaffiliated foodservice directors, were invited to the joint convention to be held in Chicago that October. Hired in February 1946 as foodservice director for the Corpus Christi (Texas) Independent School District (at what was then a whopping $2,400 annual salary), 25-year-old Gertrude Applebaum learned about the conference a few months later. Intrigued, she hopped aboard a train, alone, on October 8, 1946, and headed for the Windy City. Applebaum, who went on to serve as this new organization’s 36th president in 1981-82, recounts her impressions of that meeting and others to School Nutrition. “I WAS VERY DETERMINED AND GUTSY,” recalls Applebaum, who grew up in Chicago, going on to graduate from the University of Chicago with a degree in Institutional Management and a minor in Food Chemistry. “When you’re young, you’re very daring. When I heard about this meeting, I thought this was an opportunity to network with people in the industry, whom I could become friends with and learn from. That was my mission. “I didn’t know anybody, but it didn’t matter to me. You know, sometimes you go ‘where angels fear to tread.’ I was young and confident and met people like [1948-49 President] Mary deGarmo Bryan, who was such a terrific person.” Applebaum recalls being struck by the beauty and polish of the old downtown Sherman House Hotel. “I remember the lavish chandeliers, the gorgeous beige walls with the gold frames; it was such a rich and opulent place,” she recounts, adding, “And that is probably one of the biggest differences between the early foodservice conferences and today–elegance! Fashion back then was very important, and how I looked was very important! I can still remember what I wore: a powder blue top and black A-line skirt. Today, there is not too much glamor.” Not only does she have vivid memories of decades-old fashion choices, Applebaum has equally awesome recall of the content of the conference. “What was fascinating about that meeting is what we talked about. And what we talked about then, is what we are talking about today, but maybe in a different way,” she notes. “When the meeting opened [on October 10], we talked about menus, recipes, training, equipment and sanitation. We didn’t talk too much about legislative issues or technology, because that came in later years. And yes, there were displays and exhibits at that time.” Also like today, there were targeted sessions to different professional levels: “directors and supervisors of school lunchrooms,” “managers of lunchrooms serving 1,000 and over,” “teacher-managers of lunchrooms” and “state and county school officials,” to name a few. A tour of local cafeterias in Chicago and a visit to a test kitchen were other highlights on the agenda. Applebaum estimates about 200 people in attendance. “By and large, most of them were knowledgeable directors. I certainly looked up to all of them, because they had been involved in the profession longer than I had,” says Applebaum, citing, “people like [association pioneers] Constance Hart and Betsy Curtis. They certainly knew more about foodservice than I did! “And it was mostly a women’s meeting; I think, in fact, all women! [Chicago’s] Frank Washam was probably the lone exception,” Applebaum remembers. “But school foodservice in the 1940s was mainly a women’s profession, until wages got high enough and then men entered the field.” THE SECOND DAY OF THE CONFERENCE was dubbed “merger day,” as the discussion turned to the linking of the two organizations into a single entity to be named the School Food Service Association. “I was not a member of either association,” notes Applebaum of the merger that would become official in December 1946. “Because this was designed to be an all-inclusive meeting, school directors from across the U.S. were invited to attend. Being new to the profession, I had not been involved with [the merger]. I didn’t know the players and did not bother to investigate, because that was not my mission. I wanted to network and develop relationships with people whom I could learn from.” The convention adjourned on October 12. “The meeting in Chicago was a great success, and I knew there would be a conference the next year and beyond, because we were already talking about having one in Dallas, Texas, in 1947,” recounts Applebaum. “And that is when we really became an Association!” APPLEBAUM WAS EMPLOYED BY CORPUS CHRISTI ISD for 47 years. She was the district’s foodservice director up until 1986 and then worked as assistant superintendent in charge of support systems, before retiring in 1993 and partnering with Dorothy Pannell-Martin to form inTEAM Associates, a consulting business. [Editors’ Note: An obituary for Pannell-Martin, who passed away in May, appears on SchoolNutrition.org]. “Probably nobody has surpassed my tenure in foodservice,” laughs the 96-year-old Applebaum. “Once I got involved as a foodservice director, I knew it was going to be my lifelong career. But she hadn’t imagined, dazzled by the elegance of the hotel and the knowledge of other attendees, that she would head up the new organization some three decades hence. “It never would have occurred to me at the meeting in 1946 that one day I would be president,” she insists. “Because what I really thought about when I went to Chicago in 1946 had nothing to do with my elevation within the organization. It had to do with me understanding the profession that I had entered. But let me tell you, when I became president in the [Ronald] Reagan years, with all the talk of budget cuts and block grants, I thought I was the perfect president for the time!” Her memories offer comfort to those anxious about today’s uncertain climate for the federal child nutrition programs. “People just talked doom and gloom and thought that the budget cuts would destroy the programs,” she recounts. “But I still remember traveling the country, saying that we will be better than we ever have been. And as I look back, the positive results that happened to [this profession] were because we [began operating programs like] a business and we were very aware of controlling costs.” REFLECTING ON HOW CONFERENCES AND THE ASSOCIATION have transformed over the years, Applebaum thinks their evolution mirrors that of the changing skills and education requirements that a school nutrition director needs today. “Oh, conferences have changed dramatically,” remarks Applebaum, who has attended 55 of the past 70 ANCs. “Obviously, the size and the scope and [the program and] exhibits are larger. The introduction of processed food in the 1950s changed a lot of the food exhibits. Conferences today are showcasing more sophisticated and technological equipment; but when you boil it down, the education sessions [still relate] to what is happening in the schools. There is always training, menu planning, equipment and sanitation in one form or another.” From her vantage point, perhaps the biggest differences Applebaum sees have been the introduction and understanding of numerous federal requirements, as well as changing customer demands for increased choice. “In the old days, there was only one meal and that was lunch. It was a lunch that met all the nutrition requirements of that day and there was only one menu, which was called Type A,” she details. “I honestly think there has been a great difference every decade since the 1940s in how [the programs] grew from a single meal to what you have today, which is breakfast, lunch, snacks and supper. I mean, it has metastasized. “The job of a foodservice director today is difficult enough, but to then keep up with all the USDA rules and regulations, the number of kids that they are feeding, the different kind of school feeding programs, the technology, changes with legislation; that is what has changed SNA conferences dramatically over the years,” she concludes. But what Applebaum misses the most about those old days? “Looking back, we used to have these beautiful banquets, which they don’t have anymore,” laments Applebaum. “Today, ANC has substituted banquets with wonderful entertainment [from radio-ready bands].” She recognizes this is, in large part, because the number of attendees has increased into the thousands, making banquets cost-prohibitive. While ANC has a branded theme each year, these aren’t quite the same as the ones Applebaum holds in her heart. Among the most memorable? It was 1977 in Houston, Texas, when she was the program chair and the theme was about space. President Josephine Martin made her entrance at a General Session wearing the spacesuit of a NASA astronaut. But Applebaum recollects a different idea that had been percolating. “They were supposed to begin the conference with her being shot out of a cannon,” says Applebaum, straight-faced. “You might say that the conference almost began with a bang.” COME ONE, COME ALL! To encourage attendance at the 1946 joint convention of the National School Cafeteria Association and the Conference of Food Service Directors, Frank Washam, foodservice director of Chicago Public Schools, made the following marketing pitch, published in one of the organization’s newsletters: “This is the first really big nationwide, postwar gathering of school food service operators. The program will include nationally known speakers on timely subjects, as well as field trips to school lunchrooms and industrial and institutional food service establishments in and near Chicago. A mammoth exhibit of equipment, foods and supplies will be shown, as well as a large array of educational exhibits. You cannot afford to miss this convention where you can avail yourself of the opportunity to discuss your current problems with others engaged in your same line of business who are daily encountering and solving similar problems.” A must-attend event then—a must-attend event now! Doug Scott is a contributing editor to School Nutrition.
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