Moving Up the Food Chain
For better or for worse, the art of eating lunch comes to college
Every phase of my life has come and gone with certain eating woes I only later learned to appreciate.
Once upon a time, all I had to do was sit in my high chair and watch people act like idiots to get me to open my mouth. I likely wailed my head off during these episodes, rejecting every applesauce-filled airplane that flew towards my face.
Unfortunately, I’m unable to remember any of this. Looking back on it now, those days certainly had some redeeming qualities — I didn’t have to cook, I didn’t have to serve myself, I didn’t have to exhibit good table manners, and it was socially acceptable to spill food all over myself. It sounds great.
Then there were the good old elementary school days. From kindergarten through fifth grade, everyone had a signature lunch. Mine was a sandwich, some sort of fruit, string cheese, cookies and, of course, a note from mom. The lunches were always made with love, complete with a seasonal paper napkin.
For some reason, I was still always envious of the “cool kids” who strolled in with their store bought Lunchables. As I looked up from the note that I was discretely reading under the table, I saw them pile their delicious processed ham and cheese on crackers, secretly wishing I could be as awesome. They were independent, and they got to choose how to compile their perfectly circular creations. They could make one giant ham and cheese cracker sandwich, stick to the traditional cracker-ham-cheese-cracker combination, or eat only the cheese.
In middle school I finally decided to speak up and tell my mom that it was time to have a more dignified lunch. I trashed the lunchbox, hid the collection of lunch notes and settled. I had no choice but to accept the plain white napkins tucked into paper bags. By all normal measures, I should have been satisfied. Yet even with my new and improved eating style, I envied the eighth-graders who were allowed to use the soda machine.
High school brought about a total revolution — hot lunches you could order year-round! I was free. No more packed lunches from home. That joy lasted for about, well, a week. Then I realized the reoccurring mystery meat wasn’t exactly a desirable alternative to a classic PB&J.
The only solution was to buy my lunch elsewhere. Something about eating food obtainable only by driving made us feel infinitely superior. But there was a catch — we weren’t allowed to leave campus until the second semester of senior year.
So, naturally, the kids who had upperclassmen bring them back food ruled the school. The seniors, who were able to roll out to Chipotle, constantly flaunted their car keys and were required to blast “Call Me Maybe” upon their departure and arrival from campus. I don’t know why it was required that we sign in and out — it was obvious when we were on the move.
Looking back now, I think I would choose any of those phases over eating another mushy apple and chicken salad wrap from Runk. Maybe Miss Cathy will start writing me notes? One can only dream.
And I do — I dream of having my own kitchen, of living five minutes away from Bodo’s, Starbucks and Arches. As much as I know I’ll one day miss O-Hill brunch and limitless ice cream that’s only a swipe away, I dream of the next phase of my life. I dream of a time when I can choose the food in my refrigerator and cook delicious meals. Of course, that does require learning to cook. I’ll work on that.
Kelly’s column runs biweekly Mondays. She can be reached at email@example.com.