Sunday, August 17, 2014
Remember When School Lunch was a Big Deal?
With the start of another school year, I tried to recall my earliest memory of school or, more specifically, my earliest memory of school lunch. Third grade was as far back as I got.
At that time in my life, I was living in Suffolk, Virginia, and attending Andrew J. Brown Elementary School. Unlike the food-product served in school cafeterias today, the offerings at A.J. Brown were pretty good There was homemade fried chicken, collards, mac-‘n-cheese, green beans, meat loaf, and homemade cakes and pies. Another interesting feature of lunch at A. J. Brown was that you couldn’t take your tray away until the teacher monitoring the lunch room that day had inspected it and made sure you had eaten enough. Can you imagine that today?!
School lunch was a big deal because you got to socialize with your friends, free of the prying eyes of the teacher. You talked about the reigning king of kickball, the upcoming math quiz, or what you were going to be for Halloween. It all seemed so important at the time, and maybe it was. Certainly more so than mortgage payments, your 401K, or the next business trip to Des Moines. However, there was also a certain element of surprise or dread. “Oh, I hope they have chicken pot pie today! I hope there’s no meat loaf today!” (Though I actually loved the meatloaf.)
Unfortunately, things only went downhill after that. By the time I reached high school (at this point, we were living in the D.C. suburbs in Northern Virginia), I was stuck with tater tots, pizza in the shape of a rectangle, and hamburgers made of mystery meat. We did get taco salad on Tuesday. By junior year, however, I was making my own lunch.
And let’s talk about that high school pizza. To this day, I have no idea what the hell that thing was. What I do know is that it was not pizza, as most members of the human race would recognize it. (Yes, I was a pizza snob even at the young, precocious age of fourteen.) On the first day of high school as a freshman, I ordered one of these things—about half the size of an asphalt roof shingle, with about as much flavor, and promptly suffered a gag reflex. I never ate one again during my remaining four years of high school. Forget water boarding, the CIA should simply serve one of these things to the leader of Al-Qaeda and end the War on Terror in about six months.
My kids go to a small private school without a cafeteria. I should add that the school is also a tad bit crunchy. This puts Dad in a bit of a bind. I have to balance convenience at 9:00pm on a work night with the diktats of the gluten-free, GMO-free, organic, locavore movements. Of course, I fail miserably. My lunches, though packed with Teutonic efficiency in about five minutes flat, will usually contain Doritos and PB&Js, which surely put me on the latest hit list of the Food Police. I do, however, pack some fresh fruit and granola bars. That counts for something! Maybe I should channel my inner A. J. Brown Elementary, and send them to school with meatloaf.