In our U.S. school system, middle school students were required to sit with their homeroom class for lunch and the sharing of lunch foods was strictly forbidden. Given a lunch like this, who would want to share it, or even eat it? The goal, according to Anna Grace, was to eat enough of whatever you had so that the “lunchroom monitors” would allow you outside for recess.
Here the middle school lunch recess is a highly anticipated daily event. A sampling of today’s lunch menu included “Ossobuco with Tomato Salad.”
But the gourmet menu is not the reason for the anticipation, as many students bring a packed lunch. Students are free to sit with whomever they choose, and wherever they choose. Whether they even eat lunch is not a consideration, yet none of this excites the middle schooler, either. The only “rule” is that lunches are not to be shared, as “People have allergies.”
Over the last year or so, Anna Grace has taken an unusual interest in what I pack in her lunch tote. I have learned in recent months that the reason for such interest is that packed lunches have “Trade Value” on the cafeteria circuit; the more “international” one’s lunch, the higher trade value it holds. So much for allergies.
Case in point. One of the highest trade values has been assigned to the unassuming, all-American PB&J (Peanut Butter and Jelly) sandwich. I have even been asked to make an extra sandwich exclusively for the trading circuit. Word has it that one half of a PB&J has been traded for as much as an entire cafeteria steak frites menu.
Also high on the trading circuit is sushi and anything packed in a bento box. I feel bad for those poor moms who rise early to lovingly pack a lunch like this; they probably have no idea it gets traded away for a sammy and some store-purchased Oreos.
Curried foods are high on the trading circuit, too, though Anna Grace has stated she does not share more than a spoonful of the much-loved curried lentils I put in her thermos. I suspect next year I will be requested to provide a second thermos of lentils.
The lunchtime trade wars extend beyond the middle school, apparently. Both students have informed me that the negotiations involved in The Doritos Trade puts Model United Nations to shame, and single chips have been traded for everything from exotic African stews to homemade falafel to shrimp tempura. But never for PB&J.
Lunchbox diplomacy. Hmm, perhaps the next generation is on to something.
(Thank you, Internet, for the photos.)