I enjoyed my years of education. During elementary school and college, I worked hard to earn good grades. In high school, however, I never allowed classes and their workloads to interfere with my education. Sure, some parts of the school years weren’t so wonderful, but overall, those years were good ones. Some of my fondest memories of the time center on school food.
At Ball Camp Elementary before the fire in 1963, we kids couldn’t wait to march downstairs to the old cafeteria. All morning aromas from there drifted into our classrooms until our stomachs growled and our hunger reached critical mass.
The food was what I call country cooking. We had some kind of meat with meals, along with vegetables.Potatoes were a staple, and so were greens and peas. Pinto beans and white beans were served up a couple of times each week. Cornbread also was prepared at times. Back then, we even had fried okra, something that would have the health department closing down the entire school these days.
Sometimes students would work up enough courage to walk up to the counter to ask for seconds. They might get another helping of potatoes or peas, and if no extra food was available, the cooks handed out slices of white bread. Kids didn’t leave the lunchroom hungry back then.
In first grade, we had milk break. The cartons contained lukewarm milk, and some students would pull out snacks from home, usually saltine crackers smeared with peanut butter. During the afternoon “play period,” students lined up to buy ice cream. The standards were Fudgesicles, Brown Cows, Creamsicles, and banana popsicles. Ice cream never tasted better than after running and playing with classmates.
Shortly after I began high school, I took up smoking. That meant that 30 cents of my 50 cent lunch money was spent on a pack of Winston’s or Kool’s. Still, on Fridays I managed to scrape up enough change to buy the best lunch of the week. That day fish patties were served. In addition, a big scoop of mashed potatoesand a heaping spoonful of green peas filled the plate. One, or two if we were lucky, homemade rolls sat balanced on the side of the plate. For dessert, a homemade cinnamon roll so big that it hung over the edge of the plate waited. Heck, on Friday’s, I skipped my smoke break in order to hurry to the lunchroom and get in line.
Most of my college food was either bologna and cheese sandwiches or meals that my dear, sweet sister-in-law Brenda prepared. However, in the mornings, I would travel to the student center on the Tennessee Tech campus and buy a cup of coffee and two doughnuts with chocolate icing. They almost dripped with
At some point, school lunches changed. President Reagan declared ketchup a vegetable for school food. The federal government has stuck its nose into nutrition and developed lunches that are bland they as tasteless as the Styrofoam trays on which they are served. Salt is forbidden, as are desserts. Still, squares of nasty-tasting pizza are offered to kids. Kids throw more food into the garbage than they eat, and many pack lunches at home. For the prices that school cafeterias charge, students and teachers should be served meals equal to those offered at Chili’s or O’Charlie’s.
Perhaps the food that in my mind tasted so good might not have been that great. To a young child, everything new is “the best.” I gladly recall those delicious foods that my schools served. They were consumed with delight and no concern about cholesterol or salt or fat grams. And rarely was there a scrap to dump into the garbage can.