I’m not a picky eater at all, but I really hate sandwiches. I’ve been traumatized by years of half-hearted school lunches that my whirlwind parents threw together in the mad morning rush. Their philosophy was, “If there’s bread in the house, a sandwich will do.” They made sandwiches out of anything available, because the most important thing was nourishment. Unfortunately for me, my priority has always been taste, and that got terribly sacrificed when my parents made sandwiches for me.
The standby was lumps of cold cream cheese smeared on whole wheat bread and a layer of alfalfa sprouts stuck on top. That, with a milk bag of roughly cut carrot sticks and an apple, was generally my lunch. Sometimes I got mozzarella cheese and a smear of mayo on whole wheat, which was even worse because I’d dissect the sandwich and try to eat the components separately, but no amount of wiping with a paper towel could get rid of that awful mayonnaise. Once a week, I got cold cuts, which were heavenly, but Mom never bought enough to last all week and, inevitably, they all got eaten in the first day. When she bought a full log of summer sausage from the Mennonite farmer’s market, I’d eat that for weeks, stinking up the whole classroom with the strong garlicky smell. Tuna was okay, but equally strong-smelling, which isn’t cool in grade two. While my friends accumulated mountains of wrappers on their desks — wrappers Dunkaroos, Fruit Roll-Ups, Fruit-by-the-Foot, Jos Louis, Lunch Mates, and juice boxes — I choked down my sprouts.
It got to the point where I preferred to go hungry than eat my awful sandwich, but my mother noticed at night. I tried to outwit her by disposing of my sandwich on top of a classmate’s Cheez-Whiz-and-Wonder-Bread sandwich, also in the garbage can, but the teacher caught us both. Finally my parents sat me down for a talk.
“What do you want to eat for lunch?” they asked.
“Anything but sandwiches, please,” I begged.
So they came up with the idea to buy a Thermos and send hot leftovers instead. It was a good idea in theory, but the problem was that Mom only bought one Thermos for me and my sister to share. Sarah Jane is two years younger than me, so she was in a different classroom. When lunch time rolled around, whoever had the Thermos ate one half of the food while the other waited impatiently; then we took turns rushing through the school to deliver the Thermos so that the other sister could eat her lunch, after everyone else had finished long before. Considering the school only had three classrooms, it wasn’t a far distance to go, but it still was darn inconvenient, especially when the leftovers were macaroni and cheese — our favourite meal — and the first person ate more than her fair share. That lasted for a while before my parents relented and bought a second Thermos.
Eating leftovers at school also opened up a whole new level of scrutiny from classmates. When I brought strange, exotic dishes like Greek moussaka, spanakopita, Pakistani kima, and even bean soup, there was a chorus of “Eeew, what’s Katherine eating today?” Most of the kids in my class didn’t even know what an eggplant was, while I longed to be like them, eating the yummy, sugary processed food that they got in their lunches.
Now, at home, I usually prepare a full-blown meal for lunch, be it soup or pasta or Asian fried rice. I still can’t stomach sandwiches, unless they’re made with very particular ingredients: the freshest bread, garlicky hummus, lots of meat, dill pickles, marinated eggplant, Cambozola cheese. Yes, that’s a good sandwich, but nearly anything else reminds me of those awful cheese-and-sprout days. My son starts school in September, so perhaps the past will come back to haunt me. I might find myself in my parents’ shoes, rushing around, trying to get out the door in time, throwing together whatever I can to make a lunch. So maybe it’s time to get over my residual sprout trauma. It might come in useful.