The Anthropology of Lunches

lunchboxThis morning, I decided to leave the house and write at the library which meant that I needed to pack myself a little lunch. I wanted something simple so I made a quick peanut butter and jelly sandwich and then grabbed a little bag of Fritos that we put in our kids' lunches every once in awhile. I turned to grab a bag and when I turned back I laughed because I had basically packed a lunch from my childhood. Each day that I opened my little plastic yellow Peanuts lunch box, I would find one of two versions of lunch.

Option 1: Skippy peanut butter and grape jelly on white bread, a bag of Fritos, a Ho Ho and a thermos of red Kool-Aid.

Option 2: Bologna with yellow mustard on white bread, a bag of Fritos, a Ding Dong and a thermos full of Tang.

I could almost smell the Wonder Bread just thinking about it.

I then grabbed a clementine and threw it in my bag and as I did it hit me--I never had fresh fruit in my lunch growing up. In fact, I could barely remember having fresh fruit at all. We had watermelon in the summer but the rest of the time we ate canned fruit.

I grew up in the 1970s and convenience foods were just starting to make their way into our daily lives but my mother was also a single mother with a limited income and I can't help but wonder if that played a role too. And if it didn't and those convenience foods were more expensive than their alternatives, what did she sacrifice to pack those Ding Dongs? Things were tight enough that one night's side of mashed potatoes would become the next day's dinner--potato pancakes with cheese--so I know things weren't easy.

And then I thought of my kids' lunches. I thought of the fresh spinach and carrots and salad, the wheat bread and the organic roast beef and bacon, the fresh fruit that goes in every lunch and is in ample supply around the house and I thought about how much we can learn about class and socioeconomic status just by looking in someone's lunchbox.