Recently Sadie’s lunch started coming home uneaten. Stinky sandwich, sour grapes, untouched. It got me thinking about why we make lunch and why we thought she should keep to eating the home lunch. How much of this has to do with her body and the way it processes food? How much of it has to do with our general principle of knowing what’s in your food? How much of it has to do with cafeteria lunches typically consisting of fried cheese sticks, hamburgers, and pizza? How much of it has to do with our fear of letting Sadie “choose” from what are likely totally decadent and delicious (read salty, oily, sugary, carby, processed) choices? Will she choose the wholegrain wrap with honey mustard, pickles, uncured ham, and yogurt cheese that she’s “chosen” her way to?
I had to thank my sister, silently, for bringing up the lunch quandary weeks earlier when she’d emailed about her son (my nephew), getting in line for lunch at school and coming home with an “I OWE THE CAFETERIA LUNCH MONEY” on his hand or shirt or something like that. When she asked him what had happened to his homemade lunch, he told her he hadn’t eaten it because it made him feel poor. Eating the school lunch didn’t result in this “poor” feeling. She was writing to us siblings wondering what we thought about this. She was also jogging our memories of lunch times past, when we’d thrown out carrots and ignored sweaty meat and cheese sandwiches. I recall the light feeling of carrying my two quarters to school instead of a cumbersome lunchbox like it was yesterday. Knowing that two shiny quarters would turn into a hot scoop of taco meat on a staleish chalupa shell with shredded lettuce, cheese, and all the almost eating at taco bell feelings i craved (my family didn’t eat out much. i grew up in the days when eating out was more expensive than cooking for yourself. not so sure this is still the case with the 99 cent menus everywhere).
My response to her follows:
***I love that you brought this up***
I think a few things.
1) This seems to be more about feeling different than feeling poor.
2) It would be interesting to know what he thinks poverty is. This might give you all a starting point to talk about both. Who seems poor? Why? What do you think of them? What do other kids say about him/her? How does this make you feel? How do you think kids get poor?
3) You have to decide why you all pack lunch instead of eat the school lunch. What is in the school lunch? What’s the family’s set of ethics and values around food, eating, health, enjoyment, socializing, snacks, cooking, shopping, where food comes from, treats, etc.?
4) I’m sure there are ways to make the home lunch snappier, if that’s the way you decide to go. Maybe there’s a compromise between hot and home lunch for certain cafeteria days. I remember this from childhood. And getting him involved in planning and making lunch is probably a good idea (if you’re not already doing this ;))
5) While I can see the baggage from childhood and certainly relate to it being one who had and didn’t have cool lunches depending on our family’s finances, how well we’d manipulated parents at the market, who was packing (grandma when mom was in the hospital (can you say peanut BUTTER and jelly and Zingers)? dad (carrot, apple, bread, cheese)?), I look back and am glad I had to work with a packed lunch. There’s something about not getting to eat the salt, fat, sugar + protein, carbs, and “vegetables” / “fruit” of school lunch that probably trained my palate. I HATED and often didn’t finish the apples and carrots, but I think it was good to not have alot of money when we were kids or eat junk regularly. It taught me alot about what it feels like to have less, how nice it can be to have more, but how important it is to realize that most people have less and get by and that it’s important to choose less even when you can have more because you never know when you won’t have more and will have to live with less.
I always wanted to fit in (never did), but as an adult that’s not necessarily always fitting in still, I’m realizing this is a life long journey and that most people don’t get to fit in and there are even more people who can never fit in just because of how or where or when they’re born. Fitting in and having friends are different. Caring about what everyone thinks is a pressure that no one should have to live with and the sooner kids learn to get over the crowd the better. Of course this never goes away. It’s more of a learning to live with, cope, and remind ourselves that everyone’s got a fear of being different, but it’s the strong and different and the boldly different that figure out how to live freely and comfortably in their own skin. Feeling comfortable in your own skin is crucial. I’m wondering what Silas can say about how he eats and why he eats that way. Is there a way to start to develop an ethic and some pride around it? (I’m shooting the moon, but realize that this cannot always be given that lunches are daily and a pain in the ASS necessity)
6) If I seem top down or paternalistic or insensitive, it’s not my intention. I just have been thinking about difference and food and all that stuff since little Sadie was born and have ALOT to say about food, bodies, cooking, childhood, and the ways people feel and assume about it all on the daily. These family narratives are important and a life’s work.
Love you lots and look forward to the next “ghetto” lunch installment 🙂
p.s. pop culture side note: While Silas is too young for glee, likely, I feel like there are many episodes or scenes in it to draw on while thinking about this. it’s got an ethic that I love!
It’s not a mystery that food is a critical text through which families craft values, beliefs, and practices. My girls have been playing kitchen and setting the table since they were two. When Sadie talks about missing her father, she always mentions that she misses his food. Having a dad who love to cook and takes that over has produced an image for her of men cooking (not so different from the male dominated chef world, so I’m not sure HOW forward I’ll let Rob be for this, but…). When we talk about whether or not she can choose candy for a snack, we talk about food, energy, sugar tasting yummy, highs and lows, special times. It’s clear we celebrate with food. We talk about it, look forward to it, reflect on it afterwards when she wants MORE. But there is a conversation – a daily one and it happens in families everywhere.
What do these conversations sound like? When do we say yes, no, draw the line, not care, leave it to someone else? What are the constraints surrounding these choices?
In our case, we probably wouldn’t have gotten SOOOOO thoughtful and talkative about it if we didn’t have a first child who has a rare endocrine disorder. But I thank God (not for her struggles), but for the lenses this experience has afforded me to see all the microscopic ways we live through our bodies. We haven’t gotten to the feeling poor bit yet, but that one’s probably on the horizon. For now, we’ve addressed Sadie’s lunch vote with inviting her into the kitchen, into the cookbooks, and onto amazon where we bought a panda bento
and are packing it with weird stuff we’re concocting. Today it was a deconstructed ham sandwich (whole wheat crackers, provolone/pickle/ham skewers, and edamame/carrot kabobs). Last week it was veggie multigrain English muffin pizzas (topped with grated zucchini, carrots, parmesan, and ham strips).