Friday, March 18, 2011

Lunchroom Musings, or Pizza & Corn

I spent two days this week going into local lunchrooms for college recruitment. As an admissions counselor, lunchroom visits are one of my favorite types of recruitment. While some recruitment events may be a little on the boring side, going into a high school lunchroom and observing teenagers in their natural habitats is always entertaining!

What I wouldn't give to bring back those days of culinary perfection!

I wish I could say that I was an impartial observer in this venture. But alas, I was once a teenager, too, and my own experiences have probably colored my impressions. What follows is an attempt to document my observations of the creatures and goings-on of this unnaturally natural high school setting.

I'll start with the "teacher table." The head honcho, the big cheese, the leader of the pack, the princiPAL sits in the middle or at the head of the table. You can tell it's him or her by the way he or she sits. Confidently. The "I am a Leader" pose. He or she demands respect. A born school administrator. I imagine that as a child, this individual was always "Mother" in Mother-May-I. The male version of this rare species sits with his elbows slightly propped on the table beside his tray. He reminds me of a lion hovering over a kill. His eyes constantly dart up from the food in front of him, taking in his surroundings with a keen knowing and understanding. It's almost like he's waiting for something, for a food fight to break out or for a troublemaker to slip up. He's on the edge of his seat and ready to pounce on the next kid who jumps out of line.

The female principal is a little less predatory. She is equally confident, but perhaps a tad more discreet. Her confidence permeates not from her pose or the way she moves but from somewhere within. She is secure and eats her lunch assuredly. She is in no hurry and has no concerns. Her students will stay in line, or they will pay the price. They know that, and she knows that, so she doesn't worry about constantly watching them. If something happens, she'll handle it when it does.

The teachers around them enjoy their lunches and the chance to socialize. In a way, they've become their own clique. Chatting and enjoying each other's company. Adding to the din of the cafeteria. And boy, is there a din!

I'd forgotten just how loud a high school lunchroom could be. The sounds are unmistakable, as are the smells. Ah, to get back those days of pizza and corn, tater tots, and mystery meat. I can still taste it. That incomparable combination of pizza and corn. Whoever thought that up was a genius. 

But the food isn't the star of the high school lunchroom. Nope, the lunchroom is definitely ruled by the clique. It's been ten years since I graduated high school, and not surprisingly, little has changed. You can practically label each table after one look. It's so typical of us to band together into groups, little packs where we're completely comfortable. Heaven forbid we come out of that comfort zone. Yet in life, there are always little surprises...the square pegs that just don't fit anywhere and are completely happy with that. I've always been a square peg, but I haven't always been happy with that fact, especially not in high school. Nowadays I fully embrace my uniqueness, but even I struggled when it came to lunchroom politics.

As I watched the inner-workings of the cafeteria, my eyes always seemed to be drawn to the quiet tables. Like the table where a young man sat reading a book, completely engrossed despite the volume level and the drama around him. I suppose his book was probably a kind of defense mechanism of sorts, but I couldn't help but be proud of him anyway. He wasn't concerned with acting a part or gaining popularity. He was comfortable enough with himself and his own interests that he could ignore the call of teenage angst and just be. Or the table packed with budding young artists, all gathered around a friend with his guitar. They stood outside in the courtyard on a cold, rainy day and seemed to genuinely be enjoying each other's company. 

I could go on forever about all of the cliques and the unavoidable awkwardness of teenagers, but the bell rings, and my stint as a cultural anthropologist ends as suddenly as it began.  

But while we're on the subject, what was your favorite lunchroom meal? Despite all my love for pizza and corn, I liked fish stick days because of the hushpuppies!



  1. Hi - hopping over from FTLOB weekend wander. ( following you now too.I must follow anyone with a southern accent, as I have one too!) Loved this post. It made me remember my high school days...and yes, the cliques. Oh the "cliques".
    My favorite lunch was the open faced balonie sandwiches. Pure greese and cheese and something today's schools would never dream of serving. lol

  2. I loved those square pieces of pizza and corn. Hated fish sticks. The hamburgers, little greasy plastic disks were tasty too. I had not thought about school lunches in a long time. Thank you for the trip down memory lane.

  3. I barfed after eating fish sticks in second grade and I've been turned off of them forever. That said..I lived on french fries and salad bar, a weird combo, I know.
    This is a terrific post. I was right there with you and wishing I could do a "fly on the wall" observation too!

  4. @Debbie: Thanks! Us Southern Accents gotta stick together ;) Gotta love pure grease and cheese. Yummy stuff!

    @Bernie: I'd forgotten the pizza was square! How funny...I used to wonder why only school pizza was square with those tiny little pieces of square pepperoni.

    @No. 7: Okay, yeah, barfing up fish sticks would definitely turn me off of them, too. I remember living on the little bags of potato chips they'd give us with burgers or sandwiches. I nearly ruined chips for myself because for the longest time that would be all I'd eat off my tray. Sadly, my lunch habits have changed very little since then. Vending machines are my friend. :)

  5. I used to teach in a HS. They had such an array of foods! It was crazy! I loved square pizza growing up but they had the triangle slice regular pie pieces. Just as tasty :)

    Have a great weekend!

    Stopping by from FTLOB's Weekend Wander :)

  6. Hi, Michelle - Yes, I've noticed on my latest trips to high school lunchrooms that the food has changed just a bit. One of the schools I visited awhile back was more like a food court than a high school cafeteria. I wish they'd had that many options when I was in school. Thanks for stopping by!

  7. YAY!!! Another Southern accent in bloggyland!!!

    I hopped over from the FTLOB Weekend Wander! Have a great weekend!


  8. this! Everything you said was SO true!

  9. I'm a teacher and really try and avoid going into the dinner hall!! I hate the smell of the food. I don't know how the kids cope!!

    Just stopping by from FTLOB hop :-)

  10. I'm a square peg too, but I used to pretend SO hard that I was round. That's just part of growing up, right?

    That pizza/corn combo is such a visceral memory. We never had hushpuppies. I feel cheated.

    I found you through FTLOB Comment Love. Happy Sunday!

  11. I am one of those that got to pack a lunch. After looking at what the kids had to eat, I was so glad to have my own. My favorite lunch was one my Mother would fix for me. Vienna sausages cut in half on bed with mustard, chips and dill pickles. I could eat that ever day and not get tired of it. I guess I could have bought my lunch, but I was a picky eater. I do remember having to go through the line and getting a glass for my cold water. I think that we had better looking lunches when I was in school though. I graduated in 1974.

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