School Food and the Foodie

As I have mentioned on this blog, I love food. I also happen to love good food and I’m usually open to try something new. I had rabbit meat with gnocchi at the Lockwood restaurant while I was in Chicago. Which I highly recommend.

Of course, loving food and loving good food tends to be a problem while one is a student.

For most of my life, I was homeschooled, missing the perils of cafeteria food for a good portion of my life. I only knew of the jokes on kids shows about mystery meat, which I always assumed to be just jokes.

Upon entering public school in eighth grade, I discovered that there was quite a bit of truth in these jokes.

Granted, there were some items on the school lunch menu that were absolutely wonderful. For breakfast, the school district would have an egg and cheese biscuit sandwich. The biscuit was never too dry nor was it too moist and the cheese was perfectly melted on the egg. There was also the garlic bread that the school would have, which had a delicious garlic butter on it with cheese covering it.

But there were certainly horror stories. My sister, a student at an elementary school discovered worms in the green beans she had received at lunch. Her school also had students go there by grades. Since she was in sixth grade, she received lunch last and by that time, the food was cold.

In ninth grade, I became a vegetarian and brought my own meals simply out of convenience. I tried making wraps, but found them to be very bland. I eventually went to preparing pitas stuffed with salad mix and chopped eggs or egg salad. The fact that I did bring my own meals drew the mockery of the other students that I ate lunch with. How odd it was that I would bring my own meals when the school prepared food. I would point out that I was a vegetarian and they would laugh harder.

In tenth grade, the school district implemented a “wellness policy” to improve the healthiness of school food. This effectively did two things: one, it eliminated the items on the school menu that were actually tasty; two, it magically made the school food taste worse.

The garlic bread became cheese bread, probably because the garlic butter was deemed too fatty. Other foods simply began to taste as though someone had taken a short cut when preparing it. I then began packing my own meals as a necessity simply because my palate could not bear tasting the food prepared by the school. I also figured that a peanut butter and jelly sandwich that I prepared for myself would probably be healthier than anything the school prepared.

Although, in eleventh grade, I went back to being a vegetarian, which meant that preparing my own food was simply more convenient for me. In fact, preparing my own lunch was more convenient for me throughout high school because I had discovered that pork does not agree with my stomach and frequently the school would have nothing but pork items on the menu for a day, which always struck me as being very insensitive to the Muslim students at the high school I attended. A this point, I had moved past the wraps and pitas I had experimented with in ninth grade and began to prepare sandwiches and salads. A simple peanut butter and jelly sandwich was a good item for me because of the legumes I would receive. At first I tried basic salads, just some salad mix and dressing. Maybe I’d use a hard boiled egg. But during my senior year, I began using salad mix and adding blue cheese crumbles and dried cranberries. I tried about three different croutons that my grocery store carried before finding a variety that complimented the other two toppings. I would use a raspberry vinaigrette due to the sweet nature of my salad, after discovering that an olive oil dressing killed the flavor of the blue cheese and the dried cranberries. I began to bring fresh fruit, fruit cups, leftovers from dinner as a side dish. One day, my mother put a portion of a baguette she had baked the previous night and some brie in my lunch box as the side item. (I then had the lovely pleasure of explaining to the other people at lunch what exactly brie is.)

Of course, my love of food and the quality of food at college will probably be something I’ll have to deal with as well. While visiting Rockford College in October, my mother and I had lunch with the admissions office representative. I ordered some fettuchine alfredo to find that the alfredo sauce was very run and the noodles were falling apart. I put down my fork in sadness over the food and made a mental note to never order that dish if I attended Rockford.

Recently, I was at DePaul University and at lunch, I stood in a lunch line waiting to prepare a sandwich. By the time I got to the sandwich bar, they were out of wheat bread, which meant I had to use white bread. (For as long as I can remember, I have only eaten wheat bread for my sandwiches.) There was only mustard to use as a condiment and there wasn’t much of that. After I sat down at the table to eat, I picked up my sandwich and the bread crumbled in my hands after I picked it up from the plate. I sat it down and decided to grab something at Dominick’s to munch on on my way back to my hotel. I then compensated for this by eating at Lockwood that evening.

Of course, a love of good food brings some questions for me in college. Will I find items at the dining center that are actually good? Will I just resort to preparing my own food in the community kitchen of my dorm room? I hope the latter is not the case since I can not prepare risotto due to one of the ingredients being a dry white wine. (I use Bohemian Highway Pinot Grigio, if anyone is curious)


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