When I was a kid I was taught that breakfast is the most important meal of the day which is why as an adult I so often skip it, or at least I did until my wife started handing me a couple of slices of microwaved turkey bacon every morning, and who am I to say no to that? Most of what I was taught as a kid has turned out to be wrong anyway, so it wouldn’t surprise me if breakfast has been overrated all this time. And consider that lunch is the meal that separates the morning from the afternoon. It’s the halfway mark, the meal before the home stretch. I’m pretty sure most meetings are scheduled in the morning so lunch can be used as a convenient excuse to prevent them from going on too long. Lunch is so important that it forms the larger part of brunch, although that may also be because “lunfast” just sounds weird, but the point is that brunch was only invented as an excuse to take an early lunch and get out of a boring meeting even earlier. Lunch is so important it’s the only meal that gets its own box, and if you grew up in the ‘70’s and ‘80’s chances are you carried a lunchbox that didn’t just hold your lunch. It also helped define who you were as a person. The kid with the Little House On The Prairie lunchbox was romantic and good-hearted, the kid with the Evel Knievel lunchbox was daring and adventurous, and the kid with The Flintstones lunchbox was secretly working on breeding saber tooth cats in his basement. I had a Close Encounters lunchbox because I was pretty much born a science fiction geek, but at least that’s not as bad as the kid who had the Emergency! lunchbox. I have no memory of the show Emergency!, a ‘70’s show about firefighters and paramedics, but I distinctly remember that a kid in my class had an Emergency! lunchbox that had a picture of a couple of firefighters rescuing kids who’d climbed onto the high girders of a skyscraper under construction, because nothing whets your appetite like civilians in terrified distress. I also thought that motif would be perfect for construction workers if they didn’t all carry those simple black lunchboxes.
And our kid lunch boxes also always came with a matching plastic thermos that would be filled with soup or spaghetti or Bailey’s Irish Cream because if there’s one thing that makes a baloney sandwich on white bread with some chips and soup and a Little Debbie snack cake taste better it’s when they’re served out of a color-coordinated receptacle. Although I lost my soup privileges in third grade. From first through sixth grade the Campbell’s soup company had a money-for-schools program. Parents could take the labels off the can and mail them back to Campbell’s which would then sell them to Andy Warhol and pass a portion of the profits back to the schools, and by fifth grade my school had a wing named after my mother, but that’s another story. And then one April for some reason she bought an off-brand chicken and mushroom soup and even though that sounds like it should be good I’m pretty sure the “chicken” was made from retired circus monkeys and the broth was a watery version of the stuff you use for papier mache, and I don’t know why but I couldn’t tell my mother any of this. Instead I just tucked the thermos at the bottom of my school locker and every day said, “Great soup, I forgot to bring my thermos home.” The truth is I always knew it was there, haunting me, but “I forgot it” was a plausible excuse because I was always forgetting things, including one day when I came home without pants. And because soup doesn’t travel well in a plastic bag I didn’t have any for two months, and then at the end of school I finally confessed what I’d done and we had to turn the thermos over to the government because at that point it had become a bioweapon.
As I got older school lunch became a lot less fun, first in junior high where every class went to lunch at different times and you had to watch the door because the only way you knew lunch was over and it was time to go back to class was the teacher would come to the door and wave. And once I got separated from my class and was stuck at the back of the room where I couldn’t see the door and missed biology class. When I realized what had happened I went and explained to my teacher that I forgot and she said, “I understand. Please take your pants and go.” The first few weeks of high school were a nightmare too because I just couldn’t concentrate on eating and watching the clock and navigating through the screaming crowd, but then my friends and I figured out we could escape to a quiet place behind the gym and eat quietly and I could really enjoy my lunch which is good because it’s the most important meal of the day.