Done to eggsacting standards: Feeding the oilsands

By Kevin Thornton - Thursday, January 31 2013

Some things to know about eggs. They are nutritional; 6 grams of protein, only 65 calories. They’re also fun at Easter and, as projectiles, at Halloween. They are adaptable, practical, healthy, ovoid and most importantly, they are a critical ingredient in sending oilsands workers out to their jobs in a happier state of mind.

“We use about 1,000 eggs a day, most of them at breakfast,” says R.J. Busch, the manager of Suncor’s Millennium Lodge. In addition to the more conventional methods of preparing them, fried, poached, scrambled and boiled, they’re also in pancakes, hash browns and other delights that the workers either eat before they go or pack for their lunch. And that’s just one ingredient!

R.J. and his team prepare over 3,000 meals every day of the year and twice as many over the busy periods. To do that, every morning the Millennium Lodge receives about 15 tons of food supplies. In addition to three other operations similar in size to Millennium at Suncor, there are comparable places at Albian Sands, CNRL and Syncrude. If you count all the other oilsands operations, as well as the privately run lodges, you begin to realize the number of trucks that leave Edmonton on a daily basis bringing victuals north. Close to 100,000 meals are served every day all over the region’s oilsands operations.

Produce supply is time-critical and the large companies that specialize in delivering catering-size quantities to the lodges are already looking to expand north. If Highway 63 were to shut down for any significant length of time… well, there are only so many baked beans a worker will tolerate. Millennium Lodge is aware how tenuous the link to their supplies can be and they could easily carry on serving for two days just on reserve stocks.

This slight frisson of uncertainty regarding the necessary supplies is all part of the fun of working in one of the most dynamic industries in the world. R.J. understands this better than most. After eight years with the PPCLI (the famous Patricias, Alberta’s own) in the Canadian army, he then spent 13 years as part of the steward trade in the navy, so he’s used to keeping tired, hard-working people happy. His team also understands the comfort of familiar, filling food. At the same time, they offer plenty of healthy options and the dining rooms are emblazoned with posters gently hinting at better ways to eat. The lunchroom, where the outgoing shift stops to stock up on sandwiches, salads, fruit and other meals to sustain them through the day, spoils them for choice. As R.J. says, you can eat meat and potatoes all the time if you really want to, but you don’t have to anymore. A cursory glance through the menu for the day shows plenty of healthy choices and nary a deep-fried food in sight.

By the time I’d calculated how many kilograms of sausages, bacon, ham, bread, cereal and milk go into making breakfast I was getting rather hungry. I’d also gained a new respect for the chefs, cooks and line workers who start their kitchen duties at 4 a.m. every morning. Everything runs like the well-planned operation it is and the line moves along rapidly. Yet for me the true test of a canteen is in the coffee, and Millennium Lodge has some that is worth queuing up for. I nearly ordered a double double.

It can be a lonely life in these lodges. Most of the workers are far from home and spend more time here than with their family. Keeping morale high is important and the food is a major component of that. Millennium Lodge plays a small but important part in sustaining the sense of well-being that is part of the success of the region. The produce they consume is a link in the large economic supply chain that drives the oilsands, and while the mines wouldn’t shut down if the eggs never made it all the way up 63 and onto the plate of Joe the Worker, he’d be a less happy person for not having them. And happiness is a great philosophy to pursue.

One thing that we all already know is that there is a philosophy to eggs as well. It’s the causality dilemma – ‘what pre-exists? X, which cannot begin without Y, or vice versa’ – which is better understood as “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” On the whole, that’s just too ‘eggsistential’ an intellectual pursuit when both the chicken and the egg are served up baked, fried and boiled in order to keep the workers who power the economic engine of Canada fuelled and well fed.

Add new comment

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.