Lunchtime was a bittersweet experience for me as a child. Oh, not when I was at home – lunch was lunch, and if there were brown ‘n serve sausages and eggs, chicken noodle soup, or bologna sandwiches, all was right with the world. The problem was at school.
As I mentioned before, some schools in the US and Canada served hot lunches for the students. They were simple meals, with soups, stews, macaroni and cheese, or other staples forming a large part of the menu. There were hot dogs, but rarely hamburgers. There was always some form of vegetable and/or fruit and most school canteens had no carbonated drinks – you got milk, orange, or apple juice. I sometimes ate at the schools that had a lunch canteen and I think my mother appreciated not having to put up sandwiches.
It was only later that I reflected that these lunches might have been the only meal that some of the students got all day. We were not living in inner-city ghettos – these were suburban schools – but there was a level of neglect there that I did not see in the 6th grade. I did get to see it in the 8th grade when we moved to a bush area for dam construction. The camp children were 15 miles from the school and were bussed in by the company, so it was tin lunchboxes and thermos flasks for lunch.
My lunch was varied – soup or beans in the thermos in the winter, milk or juice in the summer. A sandwich, a couple of cookies, and a piece of fruit. The occasional treat of a square of chocolate. I was never hungry at lunch…But I do not know whether the other camp children were as lucky. I know some of the local children from the bush town were not – and lunch time for them was hungry, sad, and pointless.
There were paper sack lunches that seemed to be two pieces of dry bread with uncooked bacon in between. Or jam sandwiches. Or just a candy bar. Or nothing. Part of the hostility I experienced at the time was due to academic achievement and part of it was probably envy at my lunch. I was at a loss as to what to do in either case, so I just kept studying and eating by myself.
In retrospect, I can’t say whether poverty or ignorance or just lack of care was the cause of their problem, but if ever a school needed a lunch program it was Lodgepole Elementary.