Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Sometimes Crap Is Okay

Photo, el_en_houston, Flickr Creative Commons

You can never expect too much from a full meal that only costs you $2.50. That's what a school lunch costs for school employees, and that's a dollar more than the kids pay. Actually it's $2.50 more than more than half of our students pay, but now's not the time to discuss the crushing poverty of where I live.

Lunch today was rough. Last night's supper yielded no leftovers and unless I wanted a meal consisting only of quinoa pilaf and lime sriracha coleslaw, I had to eat at the school cafeteria. Don't get me wrong. The quinoa pilaf and lime sriracha coleslaw were excellent. They just weren't going to cut it by themselves.

As I walked into the cafeteria, I noticed that most of the kids coming out of the service line had on their trays a viscous pale yellow mass of something. As I got closer I noticed it was Hamburger Helper. Actually, it probably wasn't Hamburger Helper. I seriously doubt the state and school system can afford many name brand products when they're not getting much money back from their customers, but it was basically the same thing. I can't skip meals, so I got mine to go and went back to my room to eat.

By the way, when I say I can't skip meals, I mean I don't understand how people ever skip meals or why they would ever think something else is more important. This is not because I am a glutton. This is because I actually get dizzy after a couple of hours if I skip breakfast or lunch. Attempting to work without eating would be a waste of time.

Getting back to the meal, in addition to the cheesy noodle thing, I had turnip greens, corn, and cornbread. The turnip greens were actually pretty good. Our lunchroom usually does pretty well when cooking vegetables and these even had a bit of a kick from the pepper vinegar that someone apparently included in the school recipe. If you don't know what I'm talking about, this stuff is ubiquitous in restaurants around here. I think our local pizza place even keeps bottles of it on the tables. The corn was canned corn nibblets. Nothing really all that great or bad there, but the corn bread had obviously failed to rise. There was a thin dense layer in the center, although cornbread like this is nowhere near as unpleasant as normal wheat varieties that fail to rise. The main dish was goopy. The noodles were overcooked and hard to distinguish in texture from the cheesy sauce. The meat was that really cheap group meat that in texture and flavor is obviously not the ground meat you buy raw in stores. I'm assuming (since some of it is advertised as 100% beef) that it's that stuff that is mechanically separated from the bones and is more like a slurry than real ground meat until they finish processing it.

Anyway, it was obviously not good food and yet at one point as I'm swallowing my last bite of the crunchy corner piece of flat cornbread topped with the goopy mess of generic hamburger helper I caught myself mumbling "man, that was good."

I paused and wondered what the hell I was thinking. It didn't make sense. The stuff wasn't foul. It was a little bland and mushy, but there was nothing really offensive. Still, it was nothing I'd ever want to make myself. I will never find myself craving this crap. I don't think I even thought it was anything more than mediocre at any other point during my meal, and yet in that final moment, distracted by my procurement of a napkin and a short walk across the room, the more primitive part of my brain was allowed to take over and all it knew was pleasant quantities of carbohydrates and fats were headed toward my digestive tract.

So, yes. I actually enjoyed my crappy lunch.


Courtney said...

Have you ever watched Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution? There was an episode where he took over a school cafeteria, and I was horrified to see what some schools serve. I'm sure I ate my share of crappy school lunch as a kid, but I didn't have the discerning taste then as I do now.

Julie said...

It's a real shame that show was cancelled. Our school systems really could all use the makeover he was offering.

Personally, I have a sliding food scale. There's good for free, good for cheap, good for normal and good for pricy. Also, carbs are cheap and tasty.