Let’s Eat — A Writer’s Guide to Cooking

Back in my grammar school years, each school in our district had its own kitchen staffed by a cook and her helpers. At lunch time, the teachers would organize their students into lines and march them in for the midday meal. We would pick up a napkin, silverware, and a tray, then wait our turn to be served.

I still remember some of the things we ate. We had mashed potatoes and gravy; hot turkey sandwiches; chili beans and extremely dry cornbread; stringy canned spinach; hot buttered broccoli; pieces of celery and turnip with peanut butter on them; fish sticks; peas and carrots; coleslaw; burritos; tostadas; beerocks; pizza; peach slices; carrot and raisin salad; and dinner rolls. It was less than exciting fare, but it was cheap and we were allowed to have seconds, assuming we had finished everything on our plate. This usually posed no problem. But when it came to hot buttered broccoli, that’s where I and many other students drew the line. While the teachers weren’t looking, we pried open our milk cartons and stuffed the broccoli inside, then closed the cartons up again.

When I was in sixth grade at Grandview School, the kitchen and cafeteria were next to our classroom. The two areas were separated by large folding doors, which were opened occasionally to provide extra space during school functions. The cooking went on all morning. The resulting aromas meant that we knew what to expect for lunch each day. On broccoli days, it was impossible to concentrate on our school work. We were overwhelmed by the stench.

My friends and I ate this food for years. At thirty, forty, or fifty cents a day, there wasn’t much sense in our mothers sending us to school with sandwiches or leftovers, which of course had to be kept somewhere safe and cool for several hours until it was time for lunch.

A few years later, though, the kitchens were closed and all of the food was prepared at one central location. Then it was wrapped in plastic and put on a truck for delivery to the schools. Vending machines were installed, which peddled all sorts of soda pop and junk food.

The funny thing now is, I miss going through the cafeteria lines. I don’t miss the food, but I miss the people who wore hair nets and scooped blobs of food from stainless steel serving containers and plopped it in the institutionalized compartments of my plastic tray — the same people, wearing the same expressions, saying the same thing, serving the same food, week in and week out. It was great, and better than dealing with a vending machine any day.

Now, what got me started on all this? That’s easy. The other day, when my wife and I were at the grocery store, we saw an employee working in the bakery section whose look and manner were just like those of the cafeteria people we both remember. She was dressed in white and wearing a weary smile, and you could tell by the way she walked that she needed to get off her feet. Years of hard work haven’t broken her, but they have worn her down.

I wish she could take it easy.

Also by William Michaelian

Winter Poems

ISBN: 978-0-9796599-0-4
52 pages. Paper.
Another Song I Know
ISBN: 978-0-9796599-1-1
80 pages. Paper.
Cosmopsis Books
San Francisco

Signed copies available

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