For years, in movies and books, the lunch lady was a symbol of all that was wrong with school (and school lunch). They were the kids’ version of the Russian character in almost every North American movie from the 1950s to 1990s—shorthand for villain. (Now you know someone’s bad in an adult movie if they smoke cigarettes.)
Those poor lunch ladies couldn’t get a break—as if they were solely responsible for the nasty food served in so many school cafeterias.
Now that school lunch is being reclaimed—not least by the self-proclaimed “Renegade Lunch Lady” herself, Ann Cooper—the ladies of the lunchroom are faring slightly better in the world of pop culture.
Take the Fly Guy series, one of my 7-year-old son’s favourites.
These hilarious and easy-to-read books follow a pair of googly-eyed friends, one a boy (Buzz), the other a fly (Fly Guy). Fly Guy loves garbage soup, piles of dirt, smelly mops and dirty dishes, and the pair have many icky adventures over the 10 books in the series. In Super Fly Guy, our little hero finds happiness in the lunchroom.
At first, it seems like the lunch lady hates him, but the good woman is swayed by his intelligence and feeds him chicken bones and fish heads in sour milk (served with a straw). Her boss, however, isn’t pleased that she’s entertaining flies in the lunchroom and fires her. Everyone is sad since the lunch lady was actually a good cook!
There’s also a graphic novel series for older readers about a superhero Lunch Lady—”serving justice and serving lunch”!—by Jarrett J. Krosoczka. Named 3rd and 4th Grade books of the year in 2010 and 2011 at the Children’s Choice Awards, the series is reportedly being made into a live action movie with Amy Poehler. This lunch lady fights cyborg substitutes, evil authors and swamp monsters using only her wits, food gadgets (a banana boomerang, a lunch tray laptop) and floods of sloppy joe mix.
From super villain to superhero, the ladies who (make) lunch have truly had a makeover. Now if school lunch itself could only get the same super treatment…