Well, so the election is coming up, or sort of happening, the excitement of an actual election day long watered down by a two or three or four-week voting “process.” Somehow, it’s just not the same thing, sitting down at the dining room table with a black pen and a vote-by-mail ballot, calling the progeny from their rooms so that they can “watch me vote!”
“Cool, Mom. Is there anything to eat?”
And speaking of eating, that’s actually what I wanted to talk about today because, oddly, how and what we choose to eat is a determination of how free we are. I know, that sounds loopy, but bear with me:
Yesterday I read a Letter to the Editor from a mother whose son was 35 cents short to pay for his school lunch. The person at the cash register, who was either having a bad day or more likely was just doing the job she was hired to do, tossed the entire tray of food into the trash and waved the kid on.
While it doesn’t take many letters behind your name to figure out that the boy was publicly humiliated (M.O.M. or D.A.D. will do), this isn’t the point of the story. Neither is the blatant waste of something too many people in the world don’t have enough of — food.
What struck me was the mother’s lament that her son had to content himself with a bag of potato chips, and what were school officials thinking in presuming that her son could effectively learn if he weren’t properly fed? I mean, aren’t there all sorts of studies out there about this?
Studies aside, there’s actually an amazingly simple solution to this problem, and it doesn’t involve an additional 35 cents in her son’s pocket:
Pack your own lunch.
Years ago, when I was a little tyke with a side-swiped pony tail that represented the only way my mother knew how to do my hair, I sat with half the school in the gymnasium, eating a cold home-packed collation from a battered metal Bugs Bunny lunchbox. The other half of the school, the “Haves,” were in the basement cafeteria, where hot food was served.
Sometimes, on Fish Stick day, I was insanely jealous of the Haves, but this was counterbalanced by Hobo Stew Day, representing a compendium of leftovers that was as appetizing as its name. While every so often I finagled the precious 75 cents from my mother so that I could hob nob with my social betters in the basement, most of the time I ate what she — and later I, as I grew older — prepared: a bologna sandwich, a banana, a cookie, some soup. It may not have topped the nutrition or taste-test scales, but neither did the Hobo Stew, or even the fish sticks, for that matter.
But there was no issue about my being properly fed, or my going hungry because I didn’t like what was being served, because my mother and I were in control of the situation. We, not school officials, not the First Lady who may or may not be out of a job in a few weeks, not the USDA, determined what I ate. And we did a fine job of it.
But nowadays, many people willingly hand over this simple task to an impersonal institution that is not particularly known for its culinary prowess. Why?
Whether it’s because they’re poor (we weren’t rich) or too busy (I never saw my mother sit in the middle of the day) or worried about their children’s being ridiculed for being different (quite the learning environment, there), the result is that yet another small thing that we can do to assert our independence is taken out of our hands, willingly so, because we let it go.
It’s such a mindless, minor job, that its very triviality makes it not seem worth talking about. But that so many people simply can’t see how they can prepare their own child’s lunch — and so many more are told that they unable to properly do so, and they NEED somebody to do it for them — shows that it’s not trivial at all, but a symptom of a much larger problem.
If we don’t remain independent in the little things, how do we expect to keep our freedoms in the bigger ones?
I’ve heard horror stories of federal officials deeming school lunches brought from home as inadequate and disposing them by taking them from the children…
I know. This is taking us places we do not want to go, but by the time we wake up enough to realize where we are, there’s a lot of work to get our freedoms back. But Americans are known for being hardworkers. We’ve got some hard work ahead of us.
Confession time here: I was one of the home packed lunch in a brown bag kids. I got a dime for “milk money.” The evil option that dwelt within me won out a good deal of the time and I actually threw out my entire lunch (eating maybe a stalk of celery first), and then pocketed the dime to get ice cream after school, or bubble gum. This did not weigh heavily on my mind– at least not as heavily as such things as how nasty it was to have to learn times tables, and how mean the kids were on the playground.
I shudder to think how many apples and peanut butter sandwiches went to the benefit of rats and other foragers at the garbage dump. But I did learn a bit about school lunches so that when I was putting together lunches for my own kids I invented a successful mom-venture-capital sort of thing, where I made “hoagies” (we were in the Phila. suburbs) in a simple, but effective way, and other kids at school could order hoagies to be brought to them on Tuesdays if they paid fifty cents for them. My kids were the heroes for the heroes they delivered to their schoolmates. The parents of other children were very glad to pay fifty cents to get someone else to provide a lunch for their kids, and no food went wasted.
My kids still talk about that…and everyone thought we were the better for it.
NOTE: I would freeze ahead a bunch of olive oil anointed hoagie rolls with provolone and hard salami already in them. Then Monday night I would set out the frozen stuff to thaw a bit in the fridge, and in the AM I just slid a tomato, some lettuce, and a sprinkle of oregano into the sandwiches, wrap them up and send them off. Easy peasy, as someone said recently.)
Susan: How incredibly innovative, and something that could certainly not be done today. Another small business endeavor bites the dust.
If I had gone to that school, I would have nagged my mother into giving me the 50 cents — a hoagie that you described would have been phenominally high cuisine in my mind!
Carolyn, one could do this without delivering the hoagies at school, couldn’t one? I mean, it all comes in a brown paper bag. But the parents, I suppose, would have to give you a release of liability to keep it legal, I suppose. The school was a small private school where everyone knew everyone. This very likely would not be able to be done on a widespread scale at a “real” public school unless the mom got special food licensing.
A small, private school — still some freedom there, but as you say, liability papers and all that. Steve remembers when he bicycled through South America, he would stop in at people’s houses to eat; many women fed their own families by selling extra meals to travelers. Some people shudder at the concept of that, but in a society where we’re mysteriously “finding” e.coli in peanut butter and “washed” spinach, there’s not much to argue about the supposed superiority of industrialized, government-sanctioned safety food.
Common sense dictates that Steve, and any parents who want to buy hoagies, check out the situation for themselves, and use that common sense to determine whether or not they want to go further. The more that we depend upon official inspection, the less we depend upon our own intellect. Scary thought.
Material for a separate essay here, huh?