School Lunches

My youngest daughter is fortunate to attend a school that she loves. She’s a force of nature whose adventures are more frequently chronicled by my wife. All of what you read about her there is true, by the way. She’s spectacular, she doesn’t stop and we love her. 

She’s also ten, and while she has a more adventurous palate than I did at her age, she’s still reluctant to eat unfamiliar things. Pizza is topped with cheese or it’s inedible. Pasta may have cheese, but primarily the Velveeta brand – otherwise it’s butter and maybe a little lemon juice. Meat is tolerable if the seasoning consists of salt and sometimes, oddly, ground cumin. Peppers of any sort are right out. 

Bias against the new is typical of kids her age, and she’s interested in cooking, so I’m not worried. She has an appetite most of the time and I am fairly certain she’ll develop a broad palate as she grows older. In the meantime, I’m more concerned with getting healthy calories in her as often as possible and my definition of “healthy” is pretty broad. 

I mentioned that she attends a school she loves because in addition to the faculty, staff and other kids – all of whom seem to know her and return her love – the lunches served are cooked by the folks at Boucherie, a restaurant of which I am very, very fond. 

I cannot imagine going to a school that served good food at lunch. I was a picky eater when I was a kid, but while I also loved my school it was not because of the cafeteria menu. I believe I spent at least one year (4th grade) subsisting on fried apple pies and grilled cheese sandwiches. Mainly the fried apple pies, which I am still convinced they eliminated from the menu because I was stupid enough to tell my parents that’s all I ate. Alas, fried pie with tart filling and crisp crust… 

Georgia likes the food for the most part, but there are days when she wants us to send her lunch. For the first few months of this, I’d look at the menu and get frustrated; “how can you not want to eat chicken tacos with beans and rice? That sounds amazing!” But there’s no arguing with, “I don’t like it” or “it’s too spicy.” I mean, you can say, “it’s not spicy,” but good luck convincing a kid of that. 

I am very fortunate to live in a world where my daughter can tell us she doesn’t want to eat the nutritious, tasty food being offered at school and we can make something else for her. To be clear, her school offers the option to buy lunch on only certain days, so there’s no food going to waste. It’s one of the many things that impresses me about both the school and the folks behind the lunch program that such flexibility is built into the system. 

Still, though, how many people in New Orleans have that luxury? How many people in the world? I remember a night shortly before I graduated from college. One of my favorite history professors invited a bunch of us over for a potluck dinner party, and I brought a big batch of tomato salsa that people seemed to like. All the food was delicious and I don’t know how we got onto the topic of whether “delicious” food was better than “a lot” of food but the professor said the latter and I recall asking him, “what, didn’t you get enough to eat as a kid?” 

“No, I didn’t.” 

I don’t want to get post-modern all you guys, but I realized how privileged I was to be asking that question and I shouldn’t have been surprised at the answer. I wonder how many people I meet and interact with every day would say the same thing? 

That was more than three decades ago, and obviously I’ve managed to reconcile my guilty feelings about my privilege with my love of food and drink. Maybe I’m a hypocrite, but I still enjoy good food and I’d still rather eat a small, good meal than a large, bad one. 

Moreover, I still see the value in high-end fine dining. I don’t eat that sort of food as much as I used to, but I can appreciate the artistry involved in it and I cherish the experience of dining in a truly great restaurant more than ever. 

But the value in knowing how to cook is that I don’t need to patronize a fine-dining restaurant to enjoy great food. You can cook just about anything and make it taste good, and over the last couple of years, with prices rising at the grocery we’ve all probably done it. I learned many years ago that the measure of a truly good cook is not that she can make lobster or fillet mignon taste good. The truly good cook can make shoe leather taste good given enough time, salt and garlic. 

Your mileage may vary on the garlic.

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