the culinary caste system;a hot lunch untouchable speaks up

i’ve always been one of those totally low maintenance people when it comes to food.  i am more than ok with elio’s pizza, canned ravioli, tater tots, sloppy joes, burgers from shea, the list goes on.  now, i don’t mean to imply that i would actually cook these things, or chose them over their tastier, healthier and generally just better counterparts, i’m just saying i don’t really mind when these are my options. 

i had always attributed my cast iron stomach and lack of food snobbery to my irish heritage and white trash upbringing.  hell, i don’t even mind airline food.  i’m not saying i seek it out, but it honestly doesn’t bother me.

recently, however, my good friend genghis, currently of chicago, came to stay for a few weeks and we got to talking about many things.  i don’t remember how the topic came up, but we started on about our mutual imperviousness to non junkfood junk food.  “eureka!” exclaimed genghis, remembering that she, too, grew up in the new york city board of ed lunchrooms of the 1980s. 

while she originally hails from staten island and i from flushing, queens, the entire NYC BOE had a subsidized breakfast and lunch program for the broke-ass (oh, sorry.  90s/ Aughts translation: economically challenged), kids.  there was a sliding scale depending on your economic state: those that were pretty poor got a pack of subsidized meal tickets every month with which they paid a minimal fee to receive their two squares of the early day.  those that were in an even lower tax bracket (hee hee.  my mom made less than thirty thousand for four people) got their pack of tickets each month, too, only they had to just to supply their tough-front and ‘just mess with me’ grin with their tickets for their meals.

due to the logisitics of the lunchroom, the Hot Lunch Kids (a semi-official title) sat in the back of the cafeteria near the kitchen and slop line, while the Cold Lunch Kids (read: sandwich eating, cookie carrying snotty little spoiled bastards) sat in the front half with their brown paper bags, brand name soda cans and actual bennetton tshirts. 

i’d like to pretend that this culinary imposed caste system had no effect on the social standings of our grammar school or the way we were treated, but i’d be lying.  it sucked at the time- not that we’d ever admit it.  the HLK were too cool for school, half were bussed in, a good number of us had suffered the excrutiating humiliation of ”running to the store” to pick up some milk and such with food stamps (really not fun when you’re six) and were generally feared as the dirty savages poverty defined us to be.

the CLK got first auditions in class plays, were first to recess, wore designer clothes (yes, it mattered in the fashion conscious 80s, even to 10 year olds), almost automatic qualification for yearly talent shows (which always makes me think: “i am seriously beginning to doubt your commitment to sparkle motion.”  holla, nerds, you know to what i refer), perks that can mean a big deal when you’re eight.

i think more than anything, i coveted those brown paper bags.  they used to sell the lunch sized ones in plastic wrapped packs in the supermarket, but the only kind we ever had were the big, wrinkled ones the groceries came in.  i was constantly trying to convince my mom that we really needed a pack, even though we had hot lunch because our book covers would be cleaner and we could store things in them or some such nonsense.  i NEVER won on this point.  but then, i was always wheeling and dealing at King Kullen; trying to get Fruit Loops, Oscar Meyer bologna or Rice a Roni, some kind of rich people food.

back to the point: us hot lunch kids have it good now.  we don’t obssess over what might be served at any function: company outing, long flight, boxed lunch, only diner in town, whatever.  we know we’re good. it may be a pyrrhic victory considering the CLK probably still have the resources to upgrade, but we’re still good. 

we don’t need those crutches.  we’re survivors. 

two footnotes:

low maintenance does not necessarily mean adventurous.  i’m not not open to eating new foods, i’m just not open to eating anything or necessarily even trying everything once.  there’s a reason that my low-budget , solo adventures don’t include south east asia.  i’ll come clean, i’m terrified.

also, tip for all those on the road faced with only shady options: ORDER THE CLUB SANDWICH.  it’s very hard to screw up and when you’re in a pinch, is generally the most edible thing on the menu.  i can’t tell you the number of times i’ve been satisfied at a poor to mediocre or just plain poor hole in the wall whilst my comrades go hungry and disappointed. 


3 Responses to “the culinary caste system;a hot lunch untouchable speaks up”

  1. 1 santoki 17 June, 2007 at 15:36

    Which witch ordered the yummy-nummy club sandwich? Surely it was the one who used her spell check! [Feel free to delete this!]

  2. 2 isosceles 17 June, 2007 at 15:49

    stupid ALL CAPS exception to spell check. nice catch, van slyke.

  1. 1 psa: Breakfast at O’Hare « cunctabundus Trackback on 18 June, 2007 at 07:13

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“I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”


Upon common theatres, indeed, the applause of the audience is of more importance to the actors than their own approbation. But upon the stage of life, while conscience claps, let the world hiss! On the contrary if conscience disapproves, the loudest applauses of the world are of little value - john adams
June 2007
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from the man who taught me everything:

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