Description: Janice Low is a former food service manager who started her career on the island of Lanai. Janice now works with the School Food Authority for the State of Hawaii.
Josephine Martin: I’m Josephine Martin and I’m here with Janice Low in the wonderful city of Honolulu. It is such a pleasure to be back here after a few years. Janice, I am so glad to have an opportunity to share your history with the, with the world really. Tell me, how long have you been in child nutrition?
Janice Low: Almost thirty years.
JM: Almost thirty years? Were you here when the American School Food Service meeting was held in Hawaii?
JL: I don’t believe so. I think that was just a little bit before I started.
JM: Well, tell me, how did you get started in child nutrition?
JL: My background was Nutrition and Home Economics and the love of children.
JM: Where did you start your career in child nutrition?
JL: Well, I started on the island of Lanai. In Hawaii we have eight large islands, and
Lanai is an island which is in the county of Maui, and Lanai is a small island that has one school. And I started in that school.
JM: So, was that grades 1-12?
JM: And how many children were you working with?
JL: At that time about six hundred.
JM: And where did you go from Lanai?
JL: Well then I moved back to the island of Oahu, where I was born and raised, and that’s
where our capital of Honolulu is.
JL: So I started here on Oahu just about a year after being on Lanai. We have
geographical districts and I started in the Leeward District, the farthest school out:
JM: And were you a manager?
JL: Yes, I was a manager. And at that time it was an elementary school out in Makaha and there were about 1,000 students.
JM: And what were the kinds of things that you did that were most exciting about the school you were in?
JL: In Makaha, and 1,000 students, there was a day when – I can’t remember if they were going – they were going on a outing to the beach, because Makaha is where the famous surfing beach is – and I don’t know if they were taking the whole school, but I remember packaging lunches for a thousand students.
JM: Oh, my goodness. That must have been quite a chore. How many people did you have working with you to help you package those lunches?
JL: I believe about eight.
JM: About eight people. And do you remember what you packed in those lunches?
JL: Not right off, but probably a sandwich with some vegetable sticks and an apple or a banana and some milk.
JM: I remember on my first visit to Hawaii I visited a school and it seems to me that your menus were so attractive and you were doing so much nutrition education in the schools. Did you work with the teachers in that school?
JM: What kind of nutrition education activities did you do?
JL: We did have some fun contests for National School Lunch Week every year. We invited our dignitaries out to the school. Occasionally, we would go into the classroom and use fun visual aids and have the children participate so that they could learn about the new fruits and vegetables and how to partake of them.
JM: What was the motivating factor that caused you to go into child nutrition in the first place? You said you majored in Home Economics and Nutrition. Did you work in something else before you went into child nutrition, or was this your first job?
JL: It was my first job.
JM: It was your first job. Was there some motivating factor that caused you to go to work in schools?
JL: It was very exciting for me to think that I could work in the schools in the Department of Education with the students and in nutrition.
JM: When did you come to work in the Department of Education?
JL: My thirty-year career was in the Department of Education.
JM: Oh, I see. In Hawaii, the Department of Education, at that point, was also the administrator of the schools throughout the state.
JL: That’s correct. Hawaii is so small that our school food authority and our state agency was one and the same, under the same director. And just about four years ago we started a new state agency, which was very exciting, and we’re still in the making, and that is why you’re here to help us. That, I think, is the most exciting part of all of this; to see it all come together and doing it the right way.
JM: You have obviously been so committed to feeding kids, helping them learn to develop healthy food habits that will last them for a long, long time haven’t you?
JL: Yes, thank you.
JM: Tell me about your current job in this new state agency that you’re working in.
JL: Well, obviously, my love is for National School Lunch programs and I do oversee the School Food Authority, that has all our public schools, which is 256 schools right now, over the six islands.
JM: Do you help them with their menu planning or do you help the person who is in charge of the School Food Authority?
JM: Tell us about how you work with the School Food Authority now that you have a new organization.
JL: We, of course, do our mandatory reviews, which are the Coordinated Review Effort and the School Meals Initiative, but we also do fun training, technical assistance, going out to just see the kids and see how everything comes into play with the new reauthorization in place, and making sure that everything is done properly.
JM: And you work with the school lunch program on all six islands.
JM: And tell me, how do you get from here to Kawai?
JL: Well, the only way is on an airplane.
JL: So, most of the time we leave early in the morning. I think there’s a 5:30 flight that leaves and we have to be at the airport an hour early so we get there at 4:30 and so we wait at the airport for an hour, and so by the time lunch is completed and we’ve talked to the administrator at the school, we don’t come in until about 5 o’clock in the afternoon when we travel to an outer islands, our neighbor islands.
JM: Your neighbor islands?
JM: So, which island did you grow up on?
JL: Right here on Oahu.
JM: You grew up on Oahu. And how did you get to Lanai?
JL: At the time they had six-passenger planes and that was the best transportation we could get for our dollar. I can remember that we bought a book of five tickets. And I think it was twenty dollars a ticket so it was $100 and I could go five one-way tickets and that’s how I commuted.
JM: How often now do you get to the islands?
JL: I have not returned to Lanai since I left there.
JM: Oh, really.
JL: But it has been developed and it is a beautiful, beautiful resort now.
JM: Now when you left Lanai and came back to Oahu, did you come back into the State Department of Education at that point?
JL: Yes, I transferred to another school.
JM: In all of your 30-year career is there some one thing that’s been the most memorable – a trip you took, a child you helped, a school nutrition worker that you met that you really helped – what has been one of the most memorable or rewarding experiences?
JL: You know, I can’t think of just one, but I have to say that I have made lifelong friends, and we used to have such fun when we did activities with the association. You remember those days. It’s a little bit more difficult to get together now, but back in the days when we started out we had so many fun parties and activities where we used to get together and share our information. Those were the days.
JM: You were very active in the American School Food Service Association, weren’t you?
JM: Were you ever president of the Hawaii group?
JM: You were president; what year was that?
JL: I can’t remember.
JM: It was some time ago?
JM: Did you go to the national convention?
JL: Not at that time, I did not. But I have in the past few years. I’ve gone to Reno and Baltimore.
JM: Oh, Baltimore. That was just a couple of years ago.
JL: Yes. And I was able to go to that and it was very exciting.
JM: And you have been to some of the National Food Service Management’s activities?
JM: Tell me about that.
JL: I’ve been to the University of Mississippi, where the management institute is located. It is a beautiful, beautiful campus in the beautiful town of Oxford. I just love it. It is so quaint in that little square. And I’ve been able to do that(the training activities at NFSMI). Now, the trip from Memphis over is quite a ride. And that’s new for us. We don’t travel that far in Hawaii. So to land in another state and to go all the way to Oxford, you know, that was a new experience, but I’ve done the trip twice. I just loved it. The facility is just beautiful.
JM: And the course you took at the Institute was helpful?
JL: Yes. I took HACCP there when they offered the HACCP. That was so brand-new and so much to learn.
JM: Well, is there – Oh, I could just talk with you forever about your experiences here, because I think what you’re doing is so important and in so many ways it’s so much like what I did when I was a specialist in the Department of Education back in Georgia. And yet I look at the challenges you have with the six islands and the number of schools and I think of how much alike we are and yet how different we are. And I am just so delighted to have an opportunity to hear your experiences. Is there something else you would like to tell us about being on an island, helping to provide leadership for a program that serves these wonderful children?
JL: You know, I just want to mention one thing. I can’t say it was memorable, or whatever, but when I went through the public school system in my day lunches were a quarter. And it went till I was in the system and started my career. It was 25 cents for a lunch.
JM: Twenty-five cents for a lunch. And how much are lunches in Hawaii now?
JL: They’re a dollar.
JM: A dollar? Well, that’s not a huge increase for thirty years is it?
JM: That’s not a huge increase. Do your remember some of the foods you had when you were in school? Did you have whole milk?
JL: I’m sure we did, yes, and butter.
JM: And butter? And did you have chocolate milk?
JM: Noooooooooooo. Back then it was a no-no, wasn’t it?
JM: So, what are the most interesting changes you have observed in the school lunch program?
JL: Well, the encouraging of choice bars and putting in the different fruits and vegetables. And of course, in Hawaii, we have a lot of tropical fruits and vegetables that are so colorful and the island children like so much. So that’s the kind of things that are real different from the days that I was in school participating in school lunch.
JM: What is a typical menu now in Hawaii, using fruits and vegetables and your tropicals?
JL: We have papaya and we mix it with pineapple as a breakfast fruit. You know, here in Hawaii, we still do a lot of cooking from scratch. So we still have our stews and spaghetti sauces and chilis and we make our own breads. All the cafeterias do that. It’s a really nice thing for students to have a hot meal that’s freshly cooked and baked and of course all the fresh fruits and vegetables.
JM: You’re making my mouth water. Let’s go eat lunch, okay?
JM: All right! Let’s go!