Lose Your Lunch

Something came up in the news the other day that got me remembering lunch time at school.  Not college or high school, but way back in elementary and junior high school, as it was called in the middle ages.

I admit that what made school worthwhile for me was gym class, recess, and lunch.  Any learning that took place was strictly the result of being in the classroom between those other activities.  Lunch was a wonderful oasis of food and hilarity in the desert of fractions and the state soil (Antigo silt loam, if I remember correctly).

Once excused for lunch, we would line up at the door of the classroom, and “walk” to our respective bathrooms where we were required to wash our hands, which we did with the utmost speed, in order to get to the stairway down to the lunchroom before the other classes.

Most days we didn’t know what was being served until we got to the stairwell.  The exception to that was tuna noodle casserole day.  That smell spread throughout the three story building, and possibly to surrounding towns.  In deference to Catholic pupils, Fridays were always meat-free, and we always hoped for the fish sticks option.

I remember that I brought my lunch sometimes.  I didn’t like it, because what I brought from home was less interesting, and probably more healthy than what the cooks came up with.  Or, maybe I just didn’t like being seen as
different.  I’m not sure.  It was a long time ago.

The lunch ladies, if I remember correctly, were all heavyset older women with hairnets, dresses and aprons.  They seemed nice.  Lunch was 35 cents, plus 3 cents for milk.  Two or three times a year there would be chocolate milk.

We could go up for seconds if there was food left over.  One thing there was always plenty of was white
bread, slathered with butter.  The butter was about a half-inch thick.  It’s surprising that our arteries didn’t just clog up right there on the spot.

Kids being kids, some food ended up in the trash, but not too much.  There were grown-ups there to make sure we ate, and to minimize the waste.  There were no vending machines, so it was either lunch – what you brought or what you got in the lunch line – or nothing.

I have a lot of good memories of school lunch.

I was surprised to read the other day that a school in Chicago is banning children from bringing lunch from home, unless there are specific dietary needs that the parent can prove.  The people who run that school say that, basically, they know better what the children should eat than the children’s parents.  While that may be true in some cases, I thought that parents have the right to raise their children as they see fit.

An article in the Chicago Tribune notes that since the school has been serving a healthy menu, the amount of food thrown away by students has increased considerably.  You can lead a horse to water…

Maybe my notion of parenthood is outmoded, like white bread with too much butter.  Or, maybe there is a conflict here between good intentions and individual liberty.  I’ll have to give it some thought over lunch.

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