The complicated politics of the school cafeteria
July 16th, 2014
09:30 AM ET
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Editor's note: The Southern Foodways Alliance delves deep in the history, tradition, heroes and plain old deliciousness of Southern food. Kat Kinsman is the managing editor of CNN Eatocracy. She wrote this essay for the place-themed issue #52 of the SFA's Gravy quarterly.

Angela H. pulled me aside in the lunchroom to tell me that everyone thought my family was poor. This was news to me. So far as I could tell, my sister and I didn’t look anything like the barefoot, swollen-bellied children on the sides of the UNICEF cartons into which we slipped spare pennies. Nor did anyone attempt to gift us with sacks of half-eaten sandwiches, the likes of which our Grandmother Ribando said starving Armenian children would be most grateful to have. (Clean your plates, girls. Clean your plates.)

I pressed her for evidence and she relished the words, tumbling them around in her mouth like a disc of butterscotch before spitting them out on her Jell-O dish: “My mom says it’s weird that your mom wraps your sandwiches in Saran Wrap instead of a Ziploc. And why do you always have carrot sticks and a couple of potato chips when we all have cookies? Did your dad lose his job or something?”

I bought my lunch for the rest of sixth grade, making sure to spring for the chocolate milk instead of white—extra nickel be damned (and sorry, faraway UNICEF urchins). It’s not that I especially enjoyed the grey-meated burgers and leathery green beans slopped on my plate by a rotating cast of conscripted parents, but I loathed the notion that my peers thought they could infer anything personal from my lunch tray.

This was not a luxury afforded the students of my husband’s public high school in High Point, North Carolina. Each morning, as homeroom teachers called roll, students were forced to make a public declaration of the state of their family’s finances.

“Jasper?” Present.

“Jenkins?” I get a free lunch.

“Johnson?” I ain’t getting milk.

The milk refusal, it should be noted, was not a pro-PETA stance or a finger in the face of classroom posters touting the bone-building benefits of dairy. It was an almost punitive jab at the poorest kids who couldn’t afford the ten cents for a beverage to accompany their school-provided lunch. And a good morning to you, students. Happy learning.

The school cafeteria is a noble concept that has often failed the young people who visit it each day. In theory, a communal feeding space for children should be a breeding ground for well-nourished bon vivants of the future. In my utopian dreams, the wee bairns would populate a different round table each day, busting up any chance of cliques, accommodating eaters of all paces and family income levels, and celebrating the cuisines of each eater’s people.

“Today, we’re all going to have Isabelle’s family’s favorite American chop suey. Yes, Justin, I know it looks like your family’s Johnny Marzetti, and Ashleigh, like your mom’s chili mac, but Izzy’s dad puts paprika in theirs just like his mom and her mom did, and that’s OK. Try it.”

But that’s not how it works—or at least it didn’t a few decades back, and that’s why my friend Devna Shukla ended up eating her lunch in the bathroom. She wrote in an Eatocracy essay that, as the only girl of color at a school in an otherwise blonde-and-blue Ohio suburb, Indian food was for home enjoyment, and PB&J was for public consumption. That is, until the day that her mother packed a kachori in her lunchbox.

Savoring her favorite “outside of school” treat in front of friends would further the cultural rift she was so determined to seam, but she could not deny the deliciousness of the spicy little balls of mung beans and gram flour that were her birthright. So she made a decision that she regrets to this very day: Rather than sharing this small taste of her culture at the cafeteria table with her friends, she crept to the girls’ room and ate it in a stall.

Given America’s current obsession with—and fetishizing of—many cultures’ cuisines, the irony of that cafeteria clash was not lost on Devna or on the dozens of commenters who shared their own school eating experiences on that story and a follow-up post I wrote called “The Kid with the Stinky Lunch.”

A self-identified “American Hispanic citizen” told of being too poor to afford bread, peanut butter, or jelly, and being taunted at school for bringing tacos as lunch. “We were embarrassed so we used to hide the taco in the brown paper bag, small bites so no one could see the taco. They would make fun of us.”

Another commenter, Lisa, recalled bringing green salt-cured olives to school with her salami-on-rye sandwiches, wrapped in waxed paper instead of plastic baggies. “The kids would scream, ‘You’re eating prunes, ewwww!’” In her house, the word for mustard was “senapé,” a colloquial northern Italian term, so she asked for that on the first hot-dog day at her Catholic school. Her peers took note. Again.

Diana experienced similar taunts from her schoolmates. Not only did she grow up feeling like a bit of an outsider for bringing Macedonian baked goods like zelnik with leeks and feta cheese to school, but her father worked at a paper-bag manufacturing company and was allowed to bring home the “irregular,” slightly oversized, waxy white bags. “I didn’t think of it until one day someone joked that I brought a big bag of donuts to lunch. Oh how I wished for a bologna sandwich and a juice box in a brown paper bag!”

Maybe cafeteria politics and proclivities have changed in the decades since I’ve been in school. I’m a 41-year-old mother of none and would be hard-pressed to find an excuse to manifest in a lunchroom without it being kinda creepy. I know, as a journalist and a follower of food politics, that the most pressing current issue for children is one of healthy caloric intake. I also know, as a human, that I want cultural and economic acceptance at the lunch table wrapped into the meal and served up alongside the rest of the day’s lessons.

Read more at the Southern Foodways Alliance's blog

Stall confessions: Life lessons from my lunch box
The kid with the stinky lunch
Texas man funds lunch for school kids
The indulgence of pickled rope baloney

soundoff (69 Responses)
  1. ArcheAge

    look great today.

    September 9, 2014 at 9:38 pm |
  2. rainbow cadet

    I must have had my head in the sand during lunchtime. In my 12 years of public school, not once do I remember getting teased about my lunch, whether it was brought from home or bought at school. Nor do I remember anyone eating at the same lunch table getting teased about their lunch.

    July 20, 2014 at 4:54 pm |
  3. Snow

    I've had a similar experience with high tech. People assuming that I'm "falling behind the times" because I don't have a smartphone. And yet I'm often on the cutting-edge. I've had guests look disappointed that my camera doesn't have more megapixels - and yet I'm sometime professional photographer! I think I know a little more than they do about the equipment!

    People make value judgments based on general buying trends set by marketing departments. And have little idea that their "choices" are being made for them, and relate to how much they've spent recently, on recent fads.

    July 20, 2014 at 1:08 pm |
  4. Codock

    I remember in elementry school, I would earn a free lunch by working in the lunchroom helping plan the menu, serve and wash the lunch trays and tables while everyone else was out playing in the playground. Fond memory actually, working for my lunch likely kept me out of a lot of trouble. I think I actually enjoyed the work more than being out in the play ground.

    July 20, 2014 at 12:02 am |
  5. Changing politics

    I enjoyed the article. This subject is personal to me, my family is on a strict diet, semi-vegetarian/diabetic, for health reasons... and the biggest challenge other than re-learning how to cook and shop, has been dealing with the kids' school lunch politics.

    This, unfortunately, involved more than the other kids' turning up their noses at hummus wraps and strange looking quinoa salads. It had to do with time in the lunch room. Our schools only allow 20 to 25 minutes (includes travel and line time) to eat.

    Thankfully, 2 years in, my kids have developed a thick skin regarding food. And the teachers have stepped up and allowed more time in the lunchroom (they go 5 minutes early and have extra snack times).

    My younger one enjoys sharing treats with one friend, and tricking and/or grossing out another friend with meat-free replacements. "They thought it was real pepperoni!" They chuckled.

    My older child, thankfully, has a good friend that is Indian and they trade bites and laugh at my meager attempts to make chipati bread. "You sure that's chipati? Looks like a pancake."

    Kids are resilient, if we give them the right guidance and half a chance they'll work it out.

    Regarding the kids that assumed that you were poor; If there's ONE thing that I know, it's that kids under the age of about 15 are virtually incapable of independent opinions. It's usually something filtered from above.

    If the parents stop saying it, the kids will stop thinking it.

    Thank you for the article. Great read. :-)

    July 19, 2014 at 12:22 pm |
  6. angelabouchardmadore

    As a child of divorce, I often alternated between my dad's home and my mom's. My mother was poor. We lived in the projects and when I lived with her, we received free lunch. My father was at the other end of the spectrum. When we moved in with him, we had to pay for lunch. What I remember is having to announce which we received (similar to what this author described) but I don't remember any sort of commentary about it. No one poked fun or placed judgement. Maybe it is because I grew up in a mostly poor, rural community? I'm not sure. I will say, however, that I never once packed my lunch because I loved public school lunch! We all did. Am I alone here?

    July 19, 2014 at 10:05 am |
    • JellyBean

      I remember back in the 70s the lunch ladies baking these wonderful smelling rolls. Heaven. Yeah, me and my four siblings loved school lunches. It was pretty much all we ate the whole day.

      July 23, 2014 at 9:04 am |
  7. Karen

    I remember my first day at a new school my om did not have bread at home so she sent us with a large triangular shaped doughnut. I was so embarrassed. I also remember going to school without a lunch (no food a home) and funny that teachers never noticedI stayed int eh library all during lunch. Not once did anyone ask why I wasn't eating. I would also take home made wheat great sandwiches to school. HATED them and so wanted the white bread sandwich and Hostess treat lunches my friend brought (the girl was a big girl by the way). Now I appreciate the whole wheat and made sure my kids ALWAYS had a good breakfast (no surgery cereals folks real food) in the morning before I took them and gave them extra money in case they wanted to buy extra food for lunch. My kids are nutrition freaks now (all organic for them now) and I can barely slip in a milk chocolate treat for the grandkids. I am proud of myself. People can do it. Once my son asked, hey why don't those moms feed there kids at home when we got to school early one day. they were the same ones who could afford beer, cigarettes and yearly trips to Mexico. We need to ban this idea of federally funded school lunches and help parents at home find ways to feed their own kids (if they truly need it.). they get too dependent that it is someone else's responsibility. (Don't tell me how poor they are, it is laziness in this day.) I can tell you stories of migrant kids coming with whole grain tacos, apples, cheese for lunches and the stupid welfare to work kids coming with cheetos, ding dongs and bottles of coke. It is a matter of, do you care enough for your kid or not?

    July 19, 2014 at 9:18 am |
  8. Brittany

    I remember in middle school we would get teased if we bought school lunches. My mom never cared enough to make me lunches (although whenever id spend the week at my grandmas she would make me some bomb egg salad sandwhiches), and so I'd always have to eat the foil wrapped school lunches. If you ate lunch at school you were made fun of. I'm not sure why, maybe because the kids didnt think your parents loved you? Who knows. I always thought it was silly, and then laughed in their faces when we had suprise enchilada day and everyone wanted it but they didnt have their money haha (I went to a spanish immersion school)

    July 18, 2014 at 4:50 pm |
  9. ohioan

    I remember when we packed lunches when I was in first grade, my parents had gotten a lot of ground beef for cheap once and made several large meatloaves and then from that made about a hundred meatloaf sandwiches and froze them. They'd thaw slowly in our lunch box. I got teased so much for it. I love meatloaf though.

    July 18, 2014 at 4:46 pm |
  10. crittermomagain

    Heck, I got picked on for so many things back in middle/high school I wouldn't have even NOTICED if they added on teasing me about my lunch! :-)

    July 18, 2014 at 8:39 am |
  11. Marva

    CW is off-topic - agreed.
    However, I happen to agree with him/her, and this message needs to be broadcast at every opportunity.
    Sorry if you disagree.
    OBTW, if 'troll' means 'disagrees with you', then, well, trolls, we are, I guess.
    This is how it seems to work across the country, now.

    July 17, 2014 at 8:53 pm |
    • pluscachange

      troll means provoking for the sake of provoking, or because are paid to do same- not necessarily because of divergent opinions

      July 18, 2014 at 9:21 am |
  12. sb53

    I remember reading an article about Ellis Island immigrants in the early 20th century. One comment a social worker made about a family was "Not assimilated. Still eating spaghetti."

    July 17, 2014 at 3:57 pm |
  13. sb53

    I remember reading an article about Ellis Island immigrants in the early 20th century. One comment by a social worker about a family said "Not assimilated. Still eating spaghetti."

    July 17, 2014 at 3:55 pm |
  14. wren

    My dad was self employed and my mom didn't work growing up. Our school stigmatized poor kids or those with forgetful parents by making anyone w/o lunch money go to the end of the line. We were presented with a pbj sandwich and a plain milk. Everyone knew who didn't have money right there. But at least they didn't throw our lunches away like some recent horror stores I've read.

    July 17, 2014 at 12:44 pm |
    • pluscachange

      I suspect thaat when you stated that your mother 'did not work' that you meant that your mother did not work outside the home, and were not suggesting that she was idle all day while others cooked, cleaned, took care of her children and husband when they were sick

      July 18, 2014 at 9:18 am |
      • Carn E. Vore

        BAM, what a mighty blow you've struck for feminist homemakers everywhere! \sarc

        July 18, 2014 at 3:42 pm |
  15. palintwit

    This article does not apply to tea party patriots because they don't send their children to school. Come to think of it, tea party patriots can't read anyway.

    July 17, 2014 at 10:12 am |
    • Terry

      Comment of a lunatic, quite sure someone else has to support your kids.

      July 17, 2014 at 12:20 pm |
    • Dittyman8

      Dear Palinwit:

      Sorry to burst your arrogant bubble, but I, a Tea Party Patriot can read! I actually have one Master's degreee and I am working on my second one. Also, I do send my kid to a public school. So please keep your stereotypes to yourself. Tell me, did you ever actually sat down and actually have a conversation with one of us? You liberals want to act so knowledgable, so try it for once. You might learn something for a change.

      July 17, 2014 at 12:22 pm |
      • Sgt Hulka

        Lighten up, Francis.

        July 17, 2014 at 12:29 pm |
        • palintwit

          Is that Francis The Talking Mule ?

          July 17, 2014 at 1:07 pm |
      • heh

        FYI – Having a Masters in Creationism from a one room college in Alabama won’t get you a job.

        July 17, 2014 at 3:35 pm |
        • Dittyman8

          Heh, sorry to burst another aggorant, ignorant bubble. My Master's degree was in Information Resources Management from Webster University based in St. Louis, MO, not in AL. My second Master's will be in Information Security Management from the SANS Technology Institute in Bethesda, MD. I also had a diploma from the US Naval War College in Newport, RI. FYI, I don't believe in creationism. Try not to stereotype people please.

          July 17, 2014 at 4:55 pm |
        • Dittyman8

          BTW heh, I have a job and I make $141,000 a year. Do you?

          July 17, 2014 at 4:57 pm |
        • VladT

          I thought Liberals were supposed to be the more tolerant party....
          Apparently Palintwit doesn't adhere to that....or a sense of humor, either

          July 17, 2014 at 9:31 pm |
      • lrvman

        Yeah, your party of racist, bible-thumping idiots. That degree of yours, was it from a correspondence school? I cannot actually believe that a truly educated person would even dream of being known to associate with the vermin known as the Tea Party.

        July 17, 2014 at 4:03 pm |
        • Dittyman8

          Dude, I already answer your question about my degrees for you. Try reading my posts first before spewing your hatred. BTW, I'm not a Bible-thumper or racist. In fact, I'm a Native American (Cherokee) who is married to a Hispanic. I have had African American and Asian-American roommates when I was in the Navy. So whom exactly am I racist against, exactly? Try to get to know people before engaging in insults and stereotypes, but that would involve critical thinking and not simply quoting the party talking points, wouldn't it? BTW, the Democrats were the party of slavery, Jim Crow, the Trail of Tears, the KKK, etc. Try reading a history book or two.

          July 18, 2014 at 12:03 am |
        • Sgt Hulka

          You're new here, aren't you? Lesson: lighten up, Francis, and don't feed the trolls.

          July 18, 2014 at 6:53 am |
    • pluscachange

      tahnks for injecting (irrelevant) politics and name calling into an article on children – truly troll-like – you must be very proud

      July 18, 2014 at 9:23 am |
  16. Lori

    As a teacher and parent in a combined middle-high school, I see a lot of measures to minimize cafeteria stigmatization. All students have lunch accounts tied to their ID cards, and I almost never see a student pay cash. No one knows how much each student pays toward lunch, and all choices are available for the same price. Students who bring their lunch typically say they don't care for the school food, and their classmates accept that. The cafeteria has come a long way from the days when I had to report for the punch card whose color indicated whether I had free or reduced-price, and the "cool" line was off-limits to peons who couldn't afford the good stuff.

    July 17, 2014 at 8:03 am |
    • Jessica

      That's a great idea! I'm glad to hear the schools are making it easier on kids to get lunch. I was able to get free or reduced lunch in my school and the "free" lunch tickets were always a different color from the "paid." tickets. I was always too embarrassed and brought my lunch, although in retrospect I realize it would have helped the family's finances if I had school lunch. I recently had a heated discussion with a conservative family member who believes that not only should schools end free lunch, they shouldn't serve lunch at all. She believes this would make parents step up and pack a lunch for each and every child. It's pretty naive thinking, but this is the conservative argument against school lunches.

      July 17, 2014 at 9:09 am |
      • morgaine67

        I wonder whether schools should offer lunches, too – but for a different reason. Much of the food that is prepared is thrown away. The kids simply don't like what's being prepared and so they don't eat it. Unless the cafeteria can make the food appealing to the kids, the caloric and nutritional content is irrelevant. It's a huge waste of time, money, and food. I'd even rather have the school serve my child Burger King or McDonald's food for lunch and have him eat it than have the school serve him a perfectly balanced meal that goes in the trash untouched.

        July 17, 2014 at 9:47 am |
        • nutrition svcs

          Schools districts do not dictate nutritional content – the federal gov't does. Adhering to the ever-changing guidelines is a constant balancing act. Finding available foods that taste good, look appealing, fit the guidelines, and are reasonably priced takes a herculean effort. I've been in school food service for nine years and if everyone knew what it takes to bring food to the cafeteria table they would be blown away. It's not as easy as you think.

          July 17, 2014 at 12:00 pm |
        • Ally

          I see what you're saying, but I don't entirely agree. Once I hit jr high and high school I usually ate the school provided lunches. There were a few notoriously icky lunches (beanie weenie day) but overall I liked the food. I liked it because my parents MADE me eat well at home. I ate veggies and fruits. A lot of the food that is thrown away is because so many kids will only eat burgers, hotdogs and pizza, IMO.

          July 17, 2014 at 1:27 pm |
        • School Kid's Mom

          If kids don't eat the healthy prepared lunches, it's not because of the school district's food choices. If we keep assuming that burgers, fries and chicken fingers are the only things kids will eat, that's what they will end up eating.

          July 17, 2014 at 4:34 pm |
        • Frugal Hausfrau

          Personally (although my kids are out of school now) I'd rather bave them go hungry than eat some of the crap our school used to and still does serve. Frankly a little hunger has never killed anyone, while the stuff the schools serve, quite frankly, does. With nearly an 80 percent obesity rate among children in some areas of the country it seems pretty certain that the issue isn't getting enough food for most kids, but getting good, nutritious food.

          That being said I don't see any reason why food can't be good tasting and good for you – this doesn't have to be mutually exclusive.

          Much of what does get made does get thrown away – what kid wants to eat lettuce and the dried up carrot fingers known as baby carrots or weird cut up apples in a cellophane bag day after day after day as the "healthy" option? Or if there is a healthier meal option, what kid would rather eat that than the chicken fingers and pizza and other processed crap. It's like there is NO common sense and the middle ground is ignored.

          Give them some good tasting, healthy food. It's not rocket science. Leave the huge food contractors and big business out of it.

          July 17, 2014 at 7:43 pm |
  17. VladT

    I (fortunately, it seems) grew up in a very heavily Asian neighborhood (the Buddhist temple where Al Gore got in trouble was literally five minutes from my house, so I had a diverse introduction early on. I usually brought tuna fish as opposed to PB&J, but then the rest ran the gamut of chips, carrots, apples, and/or cookies. My dad was not a healthnut, but he was early on with the whole grain instead of white bread/fruit and carrots rather than chips type home. I often traded some for a Kudos chocolate bar.

    I remember specifically asking one of my best friends (still to this day, over 25 years later) if I could try his "pancake-looking thing." I am not sure what it was, but it had some sort of bean paste (I think) inside it, and he let me have a whole piece. To this day, I love most Asian cuisines, but sadly now live in the Sacramento area, where the authentic Asian food is severely lacking.

    July 17, 2014 at 2:59 am |
    • marisab67

      VLAD!!!! Get thee to Little Saigon. Vinh Phat is my personal fav. grocery, but Wing Wah is also excellent. Stockton Blvd has every country/island you could want and Oto's had all Japan.

      July 17, 2014 at 11:37 am |
      • VladT

        Lol....thanks for the suggestion.

        This weekend, I may just do that

        July 17, 2014 at 9:32 pm |
  18. justaperson

    Those darn democrats and their wanting immigrant children to not starve. I liked it much better when Reagan said ketchup was a vegetable.

    No really though. If you serve them good, healthy food, you are saving money by not having to pay for medical treatment of malnourished kids, and if all the children recieved the free lunch option there would be no stigma. Yes some would continue to pack their child a lunch, but the vast majority of parents can't even feed themselves properly with the amount of free time they have, so it would pay off in their benefit as well to have a destigmatised source of quick, healthy food for their kid. Some parents were never educated on how to eat properly and feed their children prepackaged trash at home and school, those children would get at least some fiber.

    You can make healthy, palatable food for children fairly cheaply if you know how to look. Our lunch programs at schools just don't have the funding or incentive to provide healthy meals. Some schools get it though, in Portland I was able to get veggies, hummus, and pita on the free lunch program, or whatever else the school as offering that day when I was in high school, I hear now they offer locally sourced food once a month, along with meatless Mondays for the free lunch program AND a salad bar that is open and free to ALL students.

    That darn dirty Obama Administration tried to force us to feed our children good food by offering them healthier choices, thankfully we had the pizza and potato industries to tell Congress we don't need it. This was waaaay back in 2011. Gee, thanks Obama.

    (Both the FAAAAAAR left and right seemed outraged, but it was Congressional Republicans that blocked the healthier standards)

    July 16, 2014 at 7:25 pm |
    • VladT

      Thanks for the far leaning rant to the left there. Since you are making it so cut and dry, let me help....
      Why are parents having kids they can't afford to feed lunch to? Yes, I know some lose their jobs, but are you telling me every single kid who has a free meal (yet also possess cellphones) is from a family of recent layoff, and not parents who don't make wise choices in family planning?

      I am not saying I necessarily believe everything I type (and definitely not what you are spouting off in a failed attempt at ironic humor), but neither side is completely right. That being said, this is eatocracy.....

      Keep politics out of it, please.

      July 17, 2014 at 2:52 am |
      • Julie Baldwin

        Vlad, who is going to pay into the Social Security fund to pay your retirement if there aren't any kids! Seriously, yes, it's not good that people have kids they can't afford if they don't bring them up correctly. However, by your argument, only wealthy people can have kids – God help us with that one since I've met plenty of kids from wealthy families who are lacking all sorts of manners and morals – just as bad as the unsupervised poor kids who turn to crime. And it is disgraceful that any party would block a move to introduce healthier meals for kids just because they received funding from lobbyists from industries which produce unhealthy food. We need to look to the future and the childhood obesity epidemic here is going to cost us a fortune in the future in health costs – maybe the potato and flour industries can pick up the medical bills?!!!

        July 17, 2014 at 8:22 am |
        • VladT

          Only wealthy people can afford kids? My parents, who were lower middle class, seemed to do pretty well.

          As for the flour and potato about parents take responsibility for feeding their kids, rather than blame the "flour industry" for kids being obese? How about parents get their kids off the computer and play outside?

          For the record, you missed the point of my post. I hate people who talk in absolutes on one side of the aisle or the other. I was mocking the original posters far left viewpoint, and hated that it is present in a food blog. You further spouted asinine statements that only wealthy people can have kids. How about people save up, form a budget, etc, rather than have four kids when they are working minimum wage, then have someone who has no kids but a hgher paying job pay for it through taxes?
          I believe in a middle ground, but if you prefer to argue in absolutes based on no personal responsibility, I will give you the logical response where people should be forced to take responsibility, rather than rely on the working class (i.e. the people who fund the government where the dollars come from), or responsibility for their kids being obese, rather than blaming the "potato lobby," or whatever you believe. Take some responsibility rather than always blaming others.

          -Vlad, otherwise known as a kid who survived without government help with middle class, not wealthy, parents

          July 17, 2014 at 9:37 pm |
  19. Kate

    When my children switched to public school they were embarrassed by their lunches. My girls would put their lunchboxes in their laps so that other kids could not see what they were eating. They told me that nobody at school eats like us...their lunches consisted of a sandwich, a piece of fruit, yogurt and maybe some trailmix or granola! I told them that this is what you have always eaten and there is nothing wrong with that. That is just how we eat and everyone eats differently.

    July 16, 2014 at 7:17 pm |
    • crittermomagain

      Good for you, teaching your kids that having a backbone is more important than giving in to the demand for conformity. Kids will taunt and embarrass each other at times, and adolescents especially get very upset about that. We need to be the adults that put these things in perspective.

      Pack a healthy lunch from home with foods your individual child enjoys. You'll be teaching them that home cooking is always best.

      July 17, 2014 at 10:33 am |
    • Dittyman8


      Good for you! Teach them that sometimes that it's OK to be different if you're doing what's right. Kids will pick on each other over anything. The important thing is to rise above it. I was reading in Lee Iaocooca's autobiography that he was made fun of as a kid before World War II for eating pizza. Yes, pizza! My son would have pizza everyday if I let him. Before WWII, most Americans outside of the Italian-American community never heard of pizza. When American troops went to Italy during the war, they learned to love to eat pizza and other Italian specialities. They brought the taste for pizza back with them and pizza became the commonplace that we know it now. Odds are, more of the foods mentioned in this article will be more common in the lunch room a few generations from now.

      July 17, 2014 at 12:36 pm |
  20. Roger W.

    "If you don't eat yer meat, you can't have any pudding! How can you have any pudding if you don't eat yer meat?! You! Yes! You behind the bikesheds! Stand still, laddie!"

    July 16, 2014 at 4:17 pm |
  21. randoid1234

    Am I the only one who remembers not caring whether kids got free lunch or not? You're in elementary and middle school for gods sake. We were more interested in trading goods. It was like a game of pit for the first couple of minutes of every lunch.

    July 16, 2014 at 4:12 pm |
    • Ally

      Same here. Everyone wanted to trade.

      July 16, 2014 at 4:17 pm |
  22. Really?

    Alternatively, parents could use these "making fun of me" experiences to teach their kids to not be so sensitive.

    July 16, 2014 at 3:56 pm |
    • Kat Kinsman

      Or, even better, teach their kids not to be bullying little jerks.

      July 16, 2014 at 6:02 pm |
      • VladT

        Can't it be both? I was taught to not bully and be nice, but also to not take cr@p from anyone.

        I don't think they're mutually exclusive......

        July 17, 2014 at 2:48 am |
      • Really? @ Kat

        Certainly. Touche'

        July 17, 2014 at 6:31 am |
  23. Josh

    I would gladly have traded my peanut butter sandwich for a taco.

    July 16, 2014 at 3:54 pm |
  24. Kathleen

    Cafeteria social strata is a very real thing. When my daughter was young we were poor. But I remembered how cruel we were to the free lunch kids when I was in school so, rather than the free lunch for her, I skipped a lot of meals myself so I could send the kid to school with a lunch or lunch money.
    But on her birthday I would splurge and either bring or have delivered a large pizza, which she would share with all the kids at her table. It made her feel wonderful to have such a "cool" lunch.
    My cafeteria nightmare when I was young (we weren't poor) was based on my peanut allergy. That was awful. I sure missed a LOT of elementary school because of the kid next to me eating peanut butter.

    July 16, 2014 at 2:13 pm |
  25. Ally

    Hmm...I just remember a lot of trading going on when I was in grade school for lunch items. I brought a lot of hot soups. I never really liked cold sandwiches for lunch. Maybe I was the weird one!

    July 16, 2014 at 2:11 pm |
  26. littlecrippledgirl

    I would have offered Lisa good money for her salami on rye and cured olives! Yum!!!

    July 16, 2014 at 12:57 pm |
  27. Bobby

    Because now it's a fruit salad! Western women make a business to ruin everything they touch. Thanks, Mom!

    July 16, 2014 at 12:44 pm |
    • Kat Kinsman

      I have no idea what you're talking about.

      July 16, 2014 at 11:35 pm |
  28. CW

    There is nothing complicated. Stop thinking Washington knows better than the locals. Pretty simple.

    July 16, 2014 at 12:42 pm |
    • Pat

      How is what Washington knows not better than the locals? If it is so simple, explain what you are talking about.

      July 16, 2014 at 1:57 pm |
    • Stephanie

      Did you even read the article? It's about kids making fun of what other kids eat for lunch. Not much to do with Washington.

      July 16, 2014 at 2:05 pm |
    • Kat Kinsman

      I missed the part where Washington was mentioned. Which is odd, seeing as I wrote the story. Which I suspect you didn't read before commenting.

      July 16, 2014 at 6:05 pm |
      • CW

        Sorry, your politics are blatantly obvious. Not one mention of the derelict parents that seem to think the rest of the taxpayers should feed their kids. 'that the most pressing current issue for children is one of healthy caloric intake' Really? Try an out of control government hell-bent on telling people how to live all the while bankrupting our children with $20 trillion in debt. Further ruining their future with Democrat policies that remove free will and choice adding millions of unskilled illegal immigrants they have to support and compete with. That is our childrens future. Stay out of my kids lunch and more importantly stop demanding for others to pay for yours.

        July 17, 2014 at 2:11 am |
        • VladT

          I think, in the long run, I may disagree with Kat Kinsman on some subjects.

          However, I may ask.....

          What prompted this random rant? I thought the article was about food diversity with a little instance of middle school bullying

          July 17, 2014 at 3:00 am |
        • Kat Kinsman

          I think you brought a whole lot more politics to this than I did. The vast majority of the kids I talked about in the article here - including me - were bringing lunch from home, not taking a single scrap of food out of anyone else's mouth or costing taxpayers one dime. I get the sense that you had a lot of things you just wanted to assume and say and you did so here without a whole lot of regard to the context, which was the cafeteria as a potential hub for cultural understanding.

          July 17, 2014 at 8:59 am |
        • JellyBean

          Just an ugly troll. By the way, good read Kat.

          July 17, 2014 at 9:10 am |
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