Monday, December 6, 2010

Lunchtime: A Retrospective

It has just occurred to me that most of my recent blog entries have not been very historical/story oriented.  On a slightly odd note, the French word for story is histoire.  Coincidence, no?  To remedy this horrible laziness on my part, I will attempt to be a bit more amusing and a bit less all about the current events updates.  At least today.

Instead of choosing one episode from my mildly amusing past, I am going to write today about a theme.  The theme is LUNCH.  Please be aware, this not lunch in a general worldwide historical sense, this is just lunch in my experience for the past 30 years.

The Early Years

I really don't remember much about the time before I could consume solid foods, so let's just forget about that. 

In my pre-school days, I was home for lunch with my mother and brother.  My mother was a SAHM (stay-at-home-mom) which meant that we spent a lot of "quality" time together.  While I know she was happy to be able to do this, I'm pretty sure there were some days she would have gladly shipped us to the moon.  At least if the entries in my baby book about my epic brattiness are to be believed.

I am not now nor have I ever been a picky eater, but in the early 80's in small-town Minnesota, there were not too many interesting options for toddler food.  My mom did the best with her available resources, and I personally think she did a great job.  Kids are finicky, but they also seem to like routine.  This explains why we ate pretty much the same thing every day.

Here is the typical menu:  butter-under-peanut butter toast, apple slices, cheese slices and milk.  On rare occasions I would switch it up and just have peanut butter toast.  Or buttered toast.  That's about it.  Actually, when I was about 3 or 4, I decided to make my own toast and shocked my mother by demonstrating that I did in fact know how to do this purely based on my observational learning. 

Please note that although my lunch menu was not highly varied, we did eat different foods at different meals.  This was just the easiest thing to do as it covered the nutritional basics, was quick and easy, and was clean enough for us to feed to ourselves.  It was a very happy time in my life from a lunch standpoint.

School Days

As my early days had established a strong love of lunch in my mind, I was optimistically curious about the unknown and oddly appealing notion of eating lunch at school.  My kindergarten year was a bit disappointing as I only attended for half a day which meant that I did not eat lunch in the cafeteria.  First grade was a different story.

In anticipation of the school cafeteria experience, I was given a blue Carebear lunchbox.  It was amazing - I think I would have carried it everywhere with me if I could.  From its ultra-secure fastening to the super sweet thermos, it was a sight to behold.  Sadly, it was not to get much use.

I'm not sure how they do things any more in elementary schools, but back in those days, there were only two options, hot or cold lunch.  "Hot" lunch was provided by the school cafeteria and was subject to the menu creating whims of whatever sick and diabolical madman (or madwoman) who had to the proper authority clearance.  "Cold" lunch was whatever your mother sent from home. 

At first, I think the idea of school cafeteria created lunches were interesting and maybe even appealing.  It must not have lasted long.  If there is one thing I distinctly remember about my early elementary school years, it is learning the scent of a school cafeteria.  This smell is universal, no matter what school or what size of cafeteria.  It is hard to describe - an odd combination of rot, preservatives, cheese, soap and despair.

By the time I reached middle school, my love of lunch had been completely destroyed.  Lack of adult supervision left me with an interesting loophole in the school lunch requirement setup.  I simply chose not to eat.  Was this a colossal waste of my parents' money?  Sure.  Was this a terrible nutritional choice?  Probably.  Did it lead to chronic migraine headaches and dehydration?  Yep.  Did any of that matter to me at the time?  No.

Junior high brought me a new option - the snack bar.  The cafeteria lines were starting to be somewhat more diverse - we had a regular lunch line and a soup/salad/sandwich line - but my appetite could never get past the omnipresent stench of cafeteria.  The snack bar was a beautiful oasis of prepackaged and therefore untainted options.  Unfortunately, the snack bar did not accept lunch tickets as payment; cash was required.

Whenever I was able to get money from my parents, I ate well on a healthy diet of chocolate shakes and cookies.  (Keep in mind that I had a 13 year-old's metabolism at this time.)  When I lacked funds, I simply did not eat.  Again, not a brilliant nutritional strategy, but there was no convincing me otherwise.

By high school, I finally started to let my guard down.  Our facility was brand-new and options grew much more varied.  In addition to the hot lunch line, we had a salad bar, a pizza line and a burger line.  We still had a snack bar, but I learned quickly what few items in the regular lunch offerings were somewhat palatable, and I survived.  I certainly did not love lunch by this point, but I hated it less.

College was a completely different ballgame.  Our food service was amazing and our options were virtually limitless.  I managed to stay nutritionally satisfied while still avoiding the "freshman 15" curse.

Working Girl

Upon graduating from college, I started my first job.  I actually still work for the same company, almost nine years later.  When I first started here, I lived about five minutes from the office.  Every day for my 45 minute lunch break, I would get in my car and motor home to relax, watch some TV and eat whatever was available in my own kitchen.  In poor weather, I would occasionally remain at work and dine in the tiny break room.  This is when I learned about microwavable meals. 

There are many different brands and varieties, but they are all basically the same.  A prepackaged frozen entree that is advertised as "lean," "healthy," "smart" or "kashi."  One important lesson I learned is that one should be wary of meals of this type that contain any type of meat.  Don't ask me to explain why.  Just trust me.

Back when times were better, my employer would spring for office lunch to be brought in once a month to celebrate birthdays and anniversaries.  Not only was this great as it was a break from my monotonous lunches from home, but it was a fun time to chat with my coworkers.  Now that times are a bit leaner, we no longer have office-sponsored lunches.  Once a year we do an employee potluck, which is still pretty fun, but not nearly often enough.

In 2005, I moved into a new department within my company.  It was a big change in job duties, but it was also a change in culture as it was a small department and was primarily made up of older men.  Older men who never brought lunch from home and went out to eat every single day.  Slowly I was sucked into their world of constant restaurant hopping until it started to spiral out of control for me calorie and money-wise.  So I pulled back and resisted; I only allowed myself to go out once a week on average.

This worked out pretty well.  Then, about a year ago, I moved into a different area of the company.  I now work with mostly females in a more customer service oriented setting.  Due to coverage issues, it is not as easy to take off for lunch whenever I want to, but I have also lost interest in eating my frozen prepackaged meals in the dungeon break room.  So, inevitably we end up eating together near our desks some form of take-out or delivery.  Occasionally my coworker will bring in leftovers from the previous nights' dinner and we will feast on regular food.

Essentially what I am trying to say is that I feel a bit like I have come full-circle in that I have learned to again appreciate the meal that is called lunch.  Not only does it symbolize the middle of my work day but it stands for yumminess and a short break from work.  Who knows what it will come to symbolize in the years to come - maybe someday when I am in a nursing home eating pureed food I will long for the days of the school cafeteria.

On a side note, I need to remember to stop drinking so much coffee.  Last night was pretty much a nightmare of waking dreams and unfulfilled sleeping needs.  By the time 6 a.m. rolled around, I was borderline delirious.  Like all Mondays, the thought of taking a personal day briefly flashed across my mind, but in true Megan form, I decided to save my personal days for really important future events, not just simple brain malfunctions.

I arrived at work in one piece, but I immediately accosted the coffee pot and proceeded to down at least three full cups before lunch.  Hopefully this does not spell disaster for my hopes of an early bedtime tonight. 

In other news, I have a paper due in nine days.  I have all my sources (articles) picked out.  I just have to read them and assemble it all into a coherent thesis and paper that is at least ten pages long.  In true Megan fashion, I'm sure it will be a slam session where I just hammer the whole thing out and refuse to reread and edit any mistakes I may have made in my rush to completion.  Or maybe not!  This time maybe, just maybe, I will be diligent and proofread my own paper before I turn it in. 

Crap.  I just realized that I have concluded my awesome theme entry with personal updates.  Is this OK?  Hm.  Well, I guess I did start this entry about a week ago, so it's probably alright that I added to it.  Just think, in less than two weeks I will be able to write entries completely unfettered by the restraints of schoolwork.  Hopefully I will be able to spend enough time at my house to accumulate some more home repair sagas and create some new and elegant drawings! 

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