Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Grade School Lunchroom in All Its Yuckiness

Grade School Cafeteria
I went to school in Northeastern Colorado, the part of the state where there is dry land farming, sugar beets, and no skiing.  Because there is farming, the farm kids were always bussed into town to the schools, which were larger than the ordinary small town schools.
My school always had a lunchroom with hot lunches.  I suppose the government subsidized these lunches.  They were cheap and they were terrible, served up by plump ladies with red faces and hair nets.
As a kid, I was always a picky eater.  Usually I didn't actually eat the lunch; I ate a piece of bread or a roll (always white, of course), drank a carton of whole milk and ate the dessert, usually clear Jello, but sometimes something better, a piece of sheet cake or maybe pudding or tapioca.
The worst of a bad progression of entrees was a disgusting white hamburger gravy served over mashed potatoes.  As a kid, the only potatoes I liked were French fries and potato chips.  And I hated anything in a cream sauce.  Yuck!  The second worst thing was stewed tomatoes, where canned tomatoes were heated up and a bunch of saltines were dumped into them. Tasteless tomatoes mingling with soggy crackers.  Some kids actually liked it, but  I can feel my bile rising just writing about these culinary abominations.
We never got junk food.  I was a skinny little thing, due to being sick a lot and I didn't usually care if I ate or not.  If that were true now, I would be incredibly svelte.  
Wednesdays they actually served something I liked.  First of all, Wednesday was chocolate milk day!  As if that weren't wonderful enough, they served what we in New England call American Chop Suey.  It's ground beef, macaroni, tomatoes and seasonings baked in a casserole or even cooked up in a skillet.  It actually tasted good.
In high school, things were not much improved, but we could go into town and grab a burger.  Once, in junior high, we had a food fight, making a huge mess and bringing down the wrath of practically everyone.  What can I say?  It was fun.  We were rebels without a cause.
In college, in the great state of Texas, they served margarine.  Texas was always big on margarine, a faux food if there ever was one.  You will never see "all natural" on a package of margarine.  This, of course, was before people knew that it was margarine that was lethal and not good healthy butter.  In college, the cafeteria put mushrooms, which I hated, into the meatloaf.  I learned to eat mushrooms when I first ate them fresh and not the slimy gunk that came out of a can or jar.
The college cafeteria also served broccoli and Brussels sprouts which I finally learned to eat.  My favorite lunch at college was grits and gravy with sausage and cabbage.  By and large the cafeteria food was bad, but by then I was discovering restaurant food, albeit cheap, and learned to love thin-crust pizza, Mexican, Asian, Middle Eastern, Indian, and seafood.
A word about seafood.  The college cafeteria served such old leathery shrimp tasting of iodine and not much else  that I stopped liking shrimp, a heretofore favorite food for the longest time. 
As a worker bee, I discovered every cafeteria had something one could eat, even if it was the salad bar, especially if it was the salad bar.  At one place, they used to dump the old salad bar into the vegetable soup and one would encounter the occasional raisin.  Finally I got smart and frugal and began to pack my lunch most days, shunning the burgers and pizza, too, too dull and ordinary and the bad entrees that reminded me of being back in school. 
One cafeteria did make a terrific grilled roast beef and provolone sandwich.  Who knew?  And it was in New England that I discovered the macaroni casserole I had been eating my entire life was called "American Chop Suey."  I add plenty of garlic, onion, herbs and spices to mine.  Dump a lot of Parmesan on top.  Viva Italia.
What is your worst food memory as a kid?  Gloppy hamburger gravy on watery mashed potatoes, anyone?

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