School Lunches

My writing prompt this week for another site asked: What was my favorite lunch to bring to school? Even though President Truman establish the federal free lunch program in 1946 as a measure of national security due to young men were rejected from the WWII draft due to medical conditions caused by childhood malnutrition, my school didn’t have a full-service cafeteria until ten or twelve years later. We simply had a large room in the school basement filled with long tables and chairs, aptly named: The Lunch Room. Thus we all had thermoses and lunch boxes or brown bags. Admittedly, I like the social part of lunch and was very proud my friends had dubbed my mom the cookie queen for her chocolate chip and her peanut butter with Hershey”s kisses cookies. Her cookies were so popular I could trade them for practically anything, including tadpoles and salamanders.

One day, my friend opened her lunch box and took out something that smelled incredible and looked delicious. “What’s that?” (Yes, I was that naive; I grew up in a WASP, meat and potatoes family, who never doctored anything with garlic or tomato sauce. Pasta was limited to macaroni and cheese.)

“My grandma’s homemade pizza.”

“Do you want to trade me for some of your pizza? I’ve got cookies”

She tore off about a two-inch piece, as I passed her two chocolate chip cookies. One taste was all it took, and my life was forever changed. This experience was the start of my discovery into a whole new world of wonderful, ethnic foods from European immigrants who’d moved to Youngstown, Ohio to work in the steel mills. Eventually, one of my grandmothers, my dad, and my mom became fans of Italian cuisine. (Sadly, my mom thought she could make spaghetti sauce, but her attempts were worse than Chef Boy Ardee, so we ate Italian at the restaurant.)

Once we had full-service cafeterias, even though much of the food was supplied by the federal government, our cafeteria ladies created wonderful dishes. So much so, I usually bought my lunch–or at least dessert. Certainly, a far cry from the awful, unappetizing food served today from microwave ovens. In fact, the last time I ate in a school cafeteria was three years ago. I was seated at a luncheon with firemen and watched them struggle to chew and swallow chicken nuggets and tater tots. (I was so embarrassed because I’ve eaten fabulous fire station meals.). Finally, I rose and went to the condiment table and returned with mayo and catsup to doctor up their meals. Immediately, the lunch room Nazi approached and began yelling at me for removing them from the condiments table. Ye, Gods! Could my embarrassment get any worse?

Of course, it’s 2021! I used to consider myself an erudite person, but I’m now just a throw-away senior-citizen heretic who believes in science, fact, and common sense. Passe, for sure. Seventy-five (75) years ago, Truman instituted the federal free lunch program, and this week a suburban Milwaukee School Board cancelled it, for fear of children becoming “spoiled.” Really? Hungry is better?

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