The politics of lunch

Confirming once again that school lunch is so much more than just a meal, a story came out this week from Montreal about a Filipino family who just won a human rights’ tribunal case launched after their 7-year-old son was reprimanded  for what the lunch room monitor said was “eating like a pig.”

Apparently, the kid was employing a traditional Filipino method—using his fork to break up his food and push it onto a spoon—and the principal  told him he should stop it and  “eat like a Canadian.”

Given demographic statistics in Canada  (by the year 2031, nearly 30% of Canadians will have been born elsewhere, according to Stats Canada), I’m not even sure what “eating like a Canadian” might look like—now or in the future. (And, indeed, if my own “Canadian” children are any example, this eating like a Canadian doesn’t have much to recommend it —in fact, it looks quite a lot more like a horse’s stable than a first class dining table, if you know what I mean…)

But—among other things— this story shows just  how loaded with cultural significance food and eating can be. One person’s slurping is another’s time-honoured show of food appreciation; one culture’s much-savoured delicacy is another’s favourite pet.

It reminds me how, in a post a few weeks back, I mentioned how much I loathe canned creamed corn, and for my troubles received a (gentle, loving) tongue lashing suggesting I’m a food snob. I have never thought of creamed corn as a signifier of anything—in fact, I haven’t thought much about creamed corn at all. But my friend felt that by dismissing it I was suggesting anyone who likes canned creamed corn is a low class lead sucker (or something like that). For the record, I was suggesting no such thing (and might just give her creamed corn pie a whirl), but I found it fascinating to think about how what we eat can carry so much freight.

Which brings me back to the lunchroom—I’d love to hear your stories about things you brought for lunch that you discovered told your classmates something about you or your family, whether you liked what it said or not.


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