Cafeteria Culture

The Good, the Bad — and the Ugly.

March 26, 2018 | | Headwaters Nest

I’m never sure what to put in Adrian’s lunch that won’t come back whole or nibbled slightly before being stashed back into the lunch bag and squished to the bottom of his backpack. Recently we discovered the source of the latest smell. Down in the recesses of a hidden pocket of his pack was … a clementine? It looked like a crusty piece of fruit pemmican enveloped in a furry layer, melted and phosphorescent. We have washed and scrubbed the pack more than five times now, but I’m sure the forensic pathology of that hidden tomb will never be fully known.

What is welcomed and devoured one week is rejected the next. I try desperately to find the right combination, so Adrian doesn’t come home at 3 p.m. with wild badger eyes swirling, unable to speak from mad hunger.

My first recollection of school lunch? My Holly Hobby lunchbox. Oh, the blue and white with subtle scripted writing – Holly Hobby, the thermos that fit inside with a clever lid and cup combo, the smart click of latches that closed it up just so. At some point I became too cool for Holly Hobby, but I fondly remember the many, many lunches of chicken noodle soup, zoodles and an apple I ate from that box. Ask any adult and they will recall their favourite lunchbox and how much they cherished it.

Beyond the lunchbox soups and pastas, I lived on peanut butter and jam sandwiches for over a decade. A peanut allergy was rare back then. Sugar, protein and carbs! Sweet and gooey goodness. My one complaint was that I didn’t like the layer of butter my mother insisted on. When it was too thick, I would gag a little and use the bread crust as a tool to excavate it off. I think moms thought the butter put “a little meat on our bones.” I don’t think it helped – I was skinny and boney from running and chores and riding until I hit late high school.

Lunchtime had its drama. We looked forward to examining what others had in their lunchboxes. Homemade cookies? A win. Cookies of any kind? Win. Chips? Win. Bologna and mustard? Generally not a win. Hot dog in thermos with cold bun on the side? Dicey to eat, but a win for effort.

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  • Once, a classmate in Grade 5 brought some kind of egg and fish-egg sandwich. Chairs screeched back from the poor fellow. I remember when I was in Grade 7, a friend and I made fun of a girl who had lemon pudding, instead of standard butterscotch or chocolate. “Lemonnn pudddinggg,” we screeched, dissolving into fits of laughter, as if it were the most absurd dessert in the world. Eventually we made her cry, the brat bullies that we were. Not a good memory, and we were rightly put on office lunch duty as a punishment. Which leads me to confess another lunchtime crime.

    On lunch duty kids were responsible for recycling chocolate milk tokens. Every day, white milk and chocolate milk were sold from the big cooler in the middle of East Gary’s main hall in exchange for tokens. Because there weren’t enough of the triangular metal tokens, a runner was assigned to take handfuls back to the office to be resold. When 
I was on duty, a few tokens went missing en route. I sinned for chocolate milk! At the end of my shift, I would casually walk down to pick up three chocolate milks – 750 ml of pure sugary heaven. I am truly sorry for my crime, Steen’s Dairy 
and Principal Miller! Your books were off because of me.

    Moving on to high school, I lived on Handi-Snacks – little cracker packs with “cheeze” and a plastic stick to spread the hydrogenated orange paste onto the crackers. An even more delectable treat was the six-inch-wide gooey cookies produced by the school cafeteria ladies every morning and every break. Kids lined up down the hall for them. Fries were a dollar and I could sustain myself with those cookies and fries. I recently told Adrian about the cookies, only to be corrected by a parent who said unhealthy food was no longer served in the cafeteria. My heart dropped for Adrian. No cookies, no fries.

    While I have become somewhat of a health nut myself (Michael Pollan is a hero), and try very hard to offer Adrian balanced options, I haven’t forgotten the sheer joy of sinking my teeth into something so irresistibly sweet or salty and unctuous, and I can’t help thinking the teenage metabolism has the resilience to absorb the occasional indulgence.

    I will continue to present Adrian with nutritional options, but I’ll also slip him a ten dollar bill from time to time, so he can nip out the side door of the school for fries and a burger. On those days I know I won’t have to reach into his backpack in fear of what corpses await.


    STEM for everyone

    StatsCan 2016 findings show that graduates from science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields not only earn more than business, humanities, health, arts, social science and education (BHASE) graduates, but are also more likely to find Canadian employment closely related to their fields when they graduate.

    On April 7, Orangeville Public Library invites kids to drop in to the Mill Street branch between 10:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. for coding fun with students from the University of Waterloo’s Science and Engineering Quest – a fabulous opportunity if your child has an interest in STEM. Check the library’s website for more details.

    Pony up

    For a great way to outfit your young ones for their next stage of riding, attend the Caledon Horse Tack Swap on April 14 for new and used horse equipment. Or bring your own goods to sell – tables must be booked in advance. The sale is from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Caledon Fairgrounds in Caledon Village on Highway 10. Admission is free and food will be sold on-site.

    Shelburne Multicultural Day

    Discover arts and crafts from the different cultures that make one of Ontario’s fastest-growing communities so diverse! Taste the treats of these cultures on April 21 from noon to 3 p.m. at the Shelburne Library. Watch the library’s Facebook page for more info about this free event.

    Earth Day – Sunday, April 22

    Celebrate Earth Day at PAMA from 1 to 4:30 p.m. with special guests from Peel’s Waste Management department. Their outreach team is awesome! Caregivers must stay with their children for all drop-in activities, but are welcome to join the fun. And if you can’t make it on Earth Day, did you know you can check out a free family pass to PAMA at your library if you live in Brampton or Caledon? It’s an absorbing place to see all kinds of exhibitions, explore hands-on activities and create memories with your family.

    Smile for days

    Argos fans were the first to discover his smile, but now Mike “Pinball” Clemons takes his smile on the road to help communities, pets, kids – you name it. We guarantee meeting him will make your day better and you’ll leave inspired. On May 4, from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., Pinball will be at the Building Better Tomorrows fundraising event with proceeds going to the Dufferin Children’s Fund. Held at Monora Park Pavilion on Highway 10 just north of Orangeville, the event will be catered by the wonderful Lavender Blue team. Tickets are $95; reserve them at DCAFS. 519-941-1530.

    Go fat!

    For something different for you big kids, rent fat-tire bikes at Island Lake. Bike rentals are $10 an hour, $40 maximum per day plus a small reservation fee. All bicycle rentals include a helmet. Rental times may be affected by weather, and there is limited availability, so call ahead – and burn some fat! 1-800-367-0890,

    About the Author More by Bethany Lee

    Bethany Lee is a freelance writer who lives in Mono.

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