Catherine Ford Gets Personal

One year: A challenge for change


with 3 comments

In moments of fancy I imagine Plato eating a roast beef sandwich — thick slices of rare roast beef with Miracle Whip and lettuce between two bakery-fresh slices of challah. I also imagine this would horrify any number of people, not the least of whom would be vegetarians or those purist chefs who believe Miracle Whip to be a chemical and thus a lesser spread than proper mayonnaise.

Then there’s a certain husband who believes the only suitable bread for sandwiches is some chewy concoction known as linseed rye, which he buys at a specialty bakery and which has the consistency of carpet underpadding.

But what has Plato got to do with this? As I remember from first-year university philosophy, Plato’s theory simplified meant, for example, that there was one perfect table. Every other table was merely a shadow of the perfect thing. Therefore, there must be one perfect roast beef sandwich existing somewhere in the ethos, because I never got served one. Never, in my many years of taking lunch to school.

I remember few school lunches because rarely was there an occasion to remember them. In high school, there was a small cafeteria in St. Mary’s High, for the approximately 400 Catholic teenagers — boys on one side of the school; girls on the other — living on the south side of Edmonton’s North Saskatchewan River. (Catholic students on the north side went to St. Joseph’s.) Whatever was served in the cafeteria other than french fries and gravy has been lost in the mists of time. And maybe my mind was elsewhere, given that the cafeteria was one of the few chances for students to mingle with the opposite sex.

In elementary school, both in Calgary and Edmonton, I walked home for lunch. And yes, everyone’s mother was presumed to be at home during the day.

In junior high, there must have been someplace to eat lunch because going to Our Lady of Mount Carmel meant an Edmonton Transit bus ride to 109th Street and a four-block walk down 76th to the school. Lunch I don’t remember. Presumably, as to this day, we ate lunch in the gym.

Obviously, as far as school lunches are concerned I can’t really remember my mother ever making me lunch. She must have, although by the time I got to high school my mother’s idea of a school lunch usually meant something way too embarrassing for a teenager — something along the lines of a tossed salad, a subtle reminder of how much I weighed.

And my obsession with roast beef? Jackie Carpentier (now Jackie de Bruin – she married Rudy who was one year behind us in high school) used to bring roast beef sandwiches to school every Monday. I though her parents must be really rich, because what late 1950’s housewife would waste a perfectly good leftover roast on her kid’s school lunch?

In our house, roast beef was Sunday dinner and the leftovers appeared for dinner on Monday. By Tuesday, whatever was left became hash. My mother may never have been Julia Child in the kitchen, but none of us went hungry and there was always lots of food on the table. Yet, there was something about school lunches that defeated my mother. When I got old enough to wield a knife without danger of losing a finger, she resigned the job.

As I remember, peanut butter and strawberry jam was the easiest to get together in the morning, seeing that the peanut butter was already out on the counter for the breakfast obligatory slices of toast. But my heart was never in the process of making my own school lunch. Like most teenagers, the lure of French fries smothered in gravy (eew) was far more interesting than homemade stuff, as there was never a chance of getting a roast beef sandwich.

Every year, in September, well-meaning home economists draw up a list of suggestions for making kids’ school lunches more nutritious and more fun. I’ve never been convinced that children want surprises in their school lunches.

After writing a column 25 years ago on school lunches and how kids didn’t want surprises, the Grade 3 students of St. Sylvester School, taught by my one of my university roommates, Carney Wakaryk, invited me to come and have lunch with them. It occurs to me just now that every one of those children is likely now making school lunches for their own children.

I went to the school, they fed me lunch — a peanut butter and jam sandwich on white bread, three cookies, an orange, and some of that flavoured drink in a tetra pack — and they grilled me, including one question concerning my age, which resulted in one nine-year-old saying: “You’re older than my dad.” (Out of the mouth of babes.)

It occurred to me that a smart investor (which I am not, given the fact I didn’t invest in Trivial Pursuit at the beginning, when I was asked, and neither did I buy gold at $35 an ounce) would have cornered the market on some “truly wretched-looking stuff called fruit roll-ups which resembles translucent ironed plasticine, or that sickly sweet, flavoured water marketed in a paper box with a baby straw, I’d be rich,” I wrote.

All of this was occasioned by suggestions, printed in the Calgary Herald just before the first day of a new school year, on what kind of snacks kids should take to school in order to fend off scurvy or starvation. (Okay, so I made that last bit up.)

But mothers are still, all these long years later, at the mercy of well-meaning home economists and dieticians who suggest creative ways to make a mother’s life more complicated. Add in the seeming proliferation of food allergies (no joke) and the challenge of school lunches and snacks are magnified. The suggestion, 25 years ago, that an ideal snack for mid-morning recess break would be to coat a peeled banana in peanut butter thinned with orange juice, rolled in nuts and frozen won’t cut it today. You can’t take nuts or peanut butter in your lunch for fear of triggering an allergic reaction, but maybe that’s a good thing. I can’t imagine a nine-year-old pulling out this “snack” in front of his peers and enduring the snickers all around.

Lest you think I’m anti-good nutrition for children I offer the following: The Heart and Stroke Foundation has oodles of advice in pamphlet form concerned with healthy eating. I know this because I sit on the fund development board and am thrilled that all sorts of information is available if people just look for it (Try for a wealth of information on healthy eating and family recipes.)

Alternatively, log on to the Heart and Stroke Foundation Facebook page and click on the healthy lunches, which includes all sorts of alternatives for my ubiquitous peanut butter and jam sandwich which, given the prevalence of allergies these days, no kid can take to school anyway. (Please note that this blog won’t correctly print an ampersand, so I am forced to use the word “and.”)

And while you’re at it, do what my mother did: let them make their own lunches. That way, they’re never surprised.

NEXT: The final push: three weeks to go.


Written by Catherine Ford

September 17, 2010 at 9:56 am

Posted in Uncategorized

3 Responses

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  1. I entered the peanut butter no go zone before it was fashionalbe, as my younger sister was so allergic to peanuts we weren’t allowed any in the house. It was my own personal tragedy as I loved pb – ala Elvis with banannas, or with any jam but grape (still don’t get that). Although I, too walked home from school for lunch until grade 7, my greatest coup was when I was a day camp counsellor and managed to convince my young charges that lobster spread or salmon sandwiches were a great trade for their peanut butter. As a parent, I turned myself inside out before adopting your mom’s idea of letting our three adorables make their own. My greatest eye opener was when I was dumpster diving (didn’t every parent who had a child do this – in search of the retainer or some other removable dental appliance?)The discarded untouched lunches was startling – but comforting – as I was certain it was only my children who were so ungrateful and wasteful.
    Lunch stories – there must be a million of em.
    And – thanks for the Heart and Stroke connection – I hope folks find it helpful.

    Jennifer Diakiw

    September 17, 2010 at 10:38 am

  2. was startling? must proofread.

    Jennifer Diakiw

    September 17, 2010 at 10:38 am

  3. Roast beef on white bread with mayonaise? Yukh. Here’s a new way to enjoy a roast beef sandwich. Roast beef on a crusty bun with aragula and creamed horseradish spread


    September 23, 2010 at 11:30 am

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