The Renegade Lunch Lady and Other Matters

It probably wouldn’t surprise you to learn that, among my obsessions, the art of packing a decent lunch is quite high. This is entirely consistent with being a person who owns over 75 colored pencils, and a lot of cool paperclips. The packed lunch obsession began, innocently enough, when I discovered how calming it felt to use cookie cutters to cut the cheddar cheese I was putting into my kindergarteners’ lunches into the shape of…. well, bats. They were leaving home for school for the first time and I was nervous. Somehow, making a nice lunch helped me feel better. The bats were because Halloween was approaching. They were sort of cute.

I’m not allowed to cut their food into cute shapes anymore. (In fact, I never really was. I learned recently that they put up with it, because they felt sorry for me. Their father had to tell me it wasn’t okay to do that.) Now, they all make their own lunches, with some help, so what goes in there is a joint decision. But there is no question that what goes into lunch matters. It matters that we eat well and with pleasure. And so, every culture has an iconic packed lunch container. In Japan, it’s the bento box. In India and in Thailand, it’s the tiffin tin. In the United States, it’s those steel tins that construction workers use and the ubiquitous brown paper bag. English people carry fancy wicker picnic baskets. I’m sure there are others, but I’ve been too busy packing lunches to devote myself utterly to a survey of World Lunches.

But I have devoted an entire blog to the subject of the packed lunch. It’s fun. It helps remind my children that what and how we eat matters. And yes, it’s a little weird. But I’m going with it, because sometimes that’s what you do with things you just really like. And it turns out that, in Berkeley where I live, I am not the only person thinking maybe ‘way too much about school lunches. If you have a chance, you might want to check it out, dip your toe into the utopian scheme that’s happening in my youngest child’s school to stamp out childhood diabetes through the introduction of organic, non-processed, locally prepared and grown, delicious food. Sounds good, huh? Or, possibly, too good to be true. I’ve written about Berkeley’s Renegade Lunch Lady here. The New Yorker has also written about her, in the September 5 education issue. But they’re not right there, in the cafeteria, like I am. Ha.

Tomorrow (Tuesday 9/5), I’m having surgery. I’ll be away until Thursday. I’ve got more scary story reading to do. A novel to finish. Plus, I’ve been reading Francine Prose’s book of essays on reading for writers. Ella, of the wonderful box of books, is leaving me a box of her books, as she leaves the country, so there’s a lot there to read. I need to finish the Sun Also Rises for my book group. I imagine I’ll have a lot to do while I’m recuperating. I’m thinking somebody might even set a nice tray of lunch for me, if I’m lucky, with my toast cut into the shape of something appealing.

See you Thursday. Don’t forget to eat a healthy, delicious lunch!

Love, BL


24 thoughts on “The Renegade Lunch Lady and Other Matters

  1. All the best with the surgery, Bloglily. Your post inspires me. This morning at 7am I was sawing frozen rolls in half while lecturing my husband about buying meat pies from the snack truck at his work. I have come to the realisation he will never, ever make his own lunch without some help from me…

    Please take care of yourself!!!!

  2. Helen and Cee — Thank you for your good wishes; it’s an easy enough surgery, but how nice to have an excuse to laze around for a little while, reading and being tiptoed around. The image, Helen, of you sawing frozen rolls in half while lecturing about meat pies so totally cracked me up that I woke a sleeping child. And now, I’m off to bed. xxoo, BL

  3. hello BL, I hope everything goes great with your surgery, I’ll be thinking of you! I have to tell you, as a tupperware-foodpacking-obsessed myself, I loved your post on bento boxes and tiffin tins, shame I can’t seem to find those in Spain… Big hugs, marta-

  4. My thoughts are with you BL. Enjoy the down time and rest. And I agree, what we eat and how we eat is incredibly important to a healthy and vital way of life. I’m enjoying so much learning to cook and prepare natural, whole foods.

  5. In my opinion it is good to have an obsession and yours is one of the most interesting ones I’ve read about. And its a good one as well. I find all the different things that schools are trying to improve health with their lunches fascinating. I also find some of the resistance from parents who feel like the school…or government as it were…are trying to “control” their lives a fascinating in a different way (i.e. silly)

  6. You know I’m thinking of you and sending lots of love and good wishes. I have a butterfly cutter, an elephant cutter and a small scottie dog cutter and will cut anything you wish…. Incidentally English folk tend only to take wicker baskets to picnics these days, unless they are of the generation of my mother-in-law who was practically bonded to hers. Apparently the worst car accident they’ve had in my husband’s family was when his sister drove the car over it in the garage…

  7. good luck on the surg.

    might it be that someone will cut the sandwiches into the shapes, so many beautiful shapes, of myriad imaginary beasts, a cornicopia of savage letters or a wellspring of inspirational stars?

    i hope so…

    if i were where you are, i might try. just for the brief, but memory-lingering slight smile…. but i am an anarchist in the most improbable sort of way…. πŸ™‚

    cheers! i drink a beer with your name on my lips.

  8. I always packed my lunch when I was in school – I detested the garbage they tried to pass off as food. And I don’t think it has improved much in the 30+ years since I was there. Here’s hoping you have a swift recovery and are feeling better soon.

  9. good for you for caring about your kids lunches!
    even if they resist, god, it’s so important to cook with your kids, I wouldn’t be much of a cook if my mom and my grammas hadn’t invited me into the kitchen and then supported the talents they saw in me
    and good luck on your surgery… (even though I know it’s over now)

    I wish I had the patience to pack lunches for myself and my boyfriend… but there’s just too many decently priced good choices for us here in the City

  10. Pingback: Chef Ann Cooper : Renegade Lunch Lady » Blog Archive » The Renegade Lunch Lady Feeds Berkeley

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