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Food service prepares for incoming Haskell students

LAWRENCE, Kan. - Seven thousand pounds of hamburger? Four hundred thirty two thousand eggs? These aren't the ingredients for a meatloaf to feed Paul Bunyan or the Jolly Green Giant, just hamburger and eggs students at Haskell Indian Nations University for one month!

The very thought of 432,000 eggs is an awesome prospect facing employees in food service. They'll have to crack each one during the month to feed the thousand or more students who attend the university.

"The students are always saying, 'We don't like powdered eggs or we're sick of powdered eggs,'" said Barbara Stumbling Bear, food services director. "We don't use powdered eggs - we crack open every single egg!"

The kitchen gleams with the soft glow of stainless steel, the dining room is empty. No employees are in sight, but in 10 days, more than 700 students will sit at those tables, talk about school and complain about the food.

Stumbling Bear, Kiowa, fights against seemingly insurmountable odds as she tries to satisfy not only nutritional needs of students, but their appetites as well. At first it doesn't sound too difficult. Feed the students. How hard can that be?

Very hard. Stumbling Bear and her 14 employees not only have to serve nutritional, well-balanced meals, they also have to take into consideration all of the different cultures students bring to school with them. With nearly 150 tribes represented, the task seems impossible.

"Students from Alaska and the Northwest like fish. But if we serve fish, the Din? students won't touch it. They aren't used to it and they don't like it, so we have to have something else to serve," Stumbling Bear said.

Even fry bread is hard to serve. "We can't make fry bread like grandma used to do. There are so many different ways to make fry bread. It is different all over the country. In the Southwest alone there are several versions of it. In the northern areas, it is completely different, too. Students tell us they want a traditional dinner with traditional food, but then you have to figure out which tradition," Stumbling Bear laughed.

Southwestern students like chilies in their food, while students from the East Coast, won't eat food that has anything red in it, fearing it will be hot, Stumbling Bear said. So chilies are served on the side as condiments.

Food service also furnishes special diets on request for students. Stumbling Bear said that although foods for those with diabetes are available, students seldom eat them.

"We have parents who call and say that their child has diabetes and they want us to make sure that they eat properly, but I can't go out and tell a 30-year-old man that he can't have that pile of potatoes on his plate."

The food service crew also caters to vegetarians, but once again, Stumbling Bear said, there are very few real vegetarians. "They say they are vegetarians, but I'll look out and they are eating a hamburger or they come in on steak night and get a steak."

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The average costs of feeding each student three meals a day is $15 or $5 per student for each meal. Almost everything is made from scratch, simply to save money.

"It is like buying food for your home, only we buy a lot more of it," Stumbling Bear said. "We have to talk to vendors and get bids and prices on everything we serve."

Gravies are all made from scratch because Stumbling Bear said she has yet to find a gravy mix that tasted good.

Meals are planned out a year in advance, so the monthly shopping list is easier to fill than it would be planning a month at a time.

And what are the favorite foods of Native American students from around the country? Hamburgers and pizza! Curtis dining room fills up on nights when these favorites are served.

"Hamburgers and pizza are the favorite. They also like pasta. Feed them a bowl of spaghetti and they are happy!"

The least favorite is beets.

"These kids all hate beets. It's like in the Bible, feeding the multitudes." Stumbling Bear chuckled and said, "I can feed seven hundred students with one can of beets!"

By now it seems apparent she must love to cook ... wrong! Cooking is one of her least favorite jobs, yet she loves working in food service. The reason? "The paperwork!" she says, smiling.

The annual budget for food services is nearly $1 million per year, but as the cost of everything goes up, Stumbling Bear finds it gets harder and harder to supply food for the students. It is in this department that she shines - she is a consummate bargain hunter.

"Just think, I get to shop 90 percent of the time. I love getting the best deal on what I order. Between here and home, I spend nearly all my time shopping! I love it."

Stumbling Bear grins as she recounts stories of challenging vendors to supply quality goods at bargain prices. The phone rings. It's a vendor. Her eyes gleam as she picks up her pen ... .