Sunday, March 27, 2016

Don't Let This Happen To You

Last week, I wrote about something important.  It motivated me.  So I thought, what if instead of a light-hearted blog that occasionally touches upon serious topics, I start posting more important things? 

Let's get serious.

I'm sorry if some of you are disappointed in this decision.  But I feel like I now have a broad enough zoological audience that I can really drive home my opinions.  Any aspiring trainers, this may be hard to read as you wonder and worry about your path towards your dream job.  But I'd be doing you no favors to sugarcoat anything.  And this week, it's time we bring to light another huge problem with the marine mammal (and general zoo/aquarium) industry. 

Wait for it....

Inadequate lunch.


It's happened to all of us.  And if you're getting into this field, it will happen to you. 

Look, we have a very labor-intensive job.  Physically, we're on our feet, lifting things, walking around, running around, sweating, shivering, swimming, scuba diving, shoveling, you name it.  Emotionally, our brains can rarely rest, what with the fact we have 24 hours of work to do in our 8,10, or 12 hour shift. 

Lunch time is the most important meal of the day for us animal care professionals.  We have to refuel.  And there is nothing like a nice, big, delicious lunch to scarf down/enjoy in between scooping poop, talking to guests, and making gastric cytology slides.

But so often, we bring meager lunches.  Lean Cuisine.  A half a sandwich.  Or, in my case as I pen this, one bowl of soup.  WHAT was I thinking?! Obviously, I wasn't.  I got up super early for fish prep and walked out the door with soup.  And some Red Bulls, but that's another story for another time.

Replace "coffee" and "wine" with "caffeine mainlined into the carotid artery" and that's my life

So now here I sit, disappointed in myself.  And worse, still hungry.  How will I endure for the rest of my shift?  Will the dolphins echolocate on my woefully empty stomach and feel sorry for me?  Will their fish start to look enticing to me where I'm like, is it REALLY that bad if I snack on a mullet real quick?*

When this tragedy occurs, there is only one thing any of us can do: Lunch Augmentation (a term coined by a very wise coworker, so I can take no credit for this phrase). 

Lunch Augmentation is a necessary skill all animal care professionals must master before they are considered for a position, or at least that's how it'll be whenever I'm in charge of the Zoo Universe.  You may know First Aid, you may know how to take a blood sample, but it's all for naught if you don't know how to supplement a skimpy lunch.

You want to know what's really sad?  Right now, my lunch augmentation options are:

* Two (2) 6-day old banana nut muffins
* One (1) 6-day old crumb cake from Panera bread
* One (1) chocolate chip muffin and one (1) muffin wrapper.  Also 6 days old
* Half (1/2) a bag of lettuce

Happiness, brought to you by food.

The crumb cake is stale, but still palatable.  There is a fly in the muffin container, but it's just a fruit fly who's probably on the same mission I am.  Lettuce is, and never will be, appropriate augmentation fare.

This situation is unfortunately and totally inexcusable.  I am partly to blame, so don't think I'm just complaining. It's been a while since I've brought communal snacks. It is the sacred duty of zookeepers everywhere to provide a steady stream of goodies to the Common Eating Area.  The Table (you know, the one where if you place food on it, it's up for grabs) should always have something relatively fresh/OK to eat on it.  Here is a short list of what is acceptable:

1. M&Ms (all variety)
2. Cheese puffs in those huge barrel things
3. Chex Mix
4. Baked goods
5. Double-stuf oreos
6. Egg rolls
7. .................................donuts.  I mean, you saw that one coming.

The Times of Plenty make this process so much easier.  Major holidays often result in tons of delicious leftover food pouring in, not to mention seasonal snacks.  It's always the best to fortify your lunchtime with cookies, macaroni and cheese, and (once) I ate week old Olive Garden after someone brought it in from a catering situation.  It was glorious. 


Animal care professionals who are watching their food intake to reach their ideal weight range often use Lunch Augmentation as an excuse to make undesired food items disappear.  Got a bunch of candy from Christmas left over at home, and you know there's no way you won't house that entire bag of Reese's peanut butter cups?  Bring it into work, and put it on The Table.  POOF.  They disappear into the G.I. tracts of your conspecifics. 

Today, for many Christians, is Easter.  And we know that Easter means lots of candy**, regardless of your religious persuasion or lack thereof.  I expect that after today, many animal departments will have at least a few days where they don't have to worry about bringing in a skimpy lunch.  They may have to worry about other things, such as Type 8 diabetes, which is only found in the zoological industry (this also includes veterinary offices). 


Remaining well-fueled on process sugar may sound disgusting to those of you who do not work in this industry, but I'm telling you it gets us through some tough times.  Nobody stress-eats like animal caretakers.  Bad days often mean horrendous weather PLUS some animal health emergency PLUS getting yelled at by a guest PLUS getting a splinter the size of a yardstick shoved under your fingernail.  The only way to heal is to eat a good lunch.  The only way to a good lunch is to have a lot of it.  Plus sugar. 

Pack those lunch boxes to the brim, my comrades. And if you forget, make sure you contribute to the Lunch Augmentation Pile that should always be present in our break rooms.  Take care of yourself, take care of each other. 

* This has happened to me on more than one occasion.

** Also Peeps, which are actually melted PVC pieces covered in radiated sugar

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