What I remember of my school lunch was this: a neat, peanut butter and strawberry jelly sandwich on white bread, sliced down the middle diagonally, enveloped in a plastic bag just big enough to close. Mind you, this was the sixties. Stay-at-home moms didn’t fuck around with the preparations of lunches. What would seem like an ordinary option for an eight-year-old child was systematically chosen for a number of symbolic reasons:
The bread had to be store-bought and white, of course, so as not to raise a red flag among my classmates. Anyone who had a semi-stable home life had glutinous, manufactured white bread holding his or her sandwich together, even if it was the only thing holding anything together.
Peanut butter being the stand-in for comfort, creamy, processed, and brand name was the only logical choice. Use the natural kind, the kind where the oil separates, and you might as well scream you’re a hippy—or a communist.
Strawberry or grape jelly. Never apricot. God forbid a banana slice slips in there.
The little sandwich, once prepared without an ounce of its contents seeping out the sides, had to be cut into two symmetrical triangles. A diagonal cut represented stability and skill while the horizontal cut, resulting in two homely rectangles, could only spell one thing: a serious lack of imagination.
The bag, fitting perfectly around the sandwich, conveyed that the care was in the planning, several steps before the lunch was ever made.
My mother never failed to mention that her mother never took this kind of care with her school lunch. More often than not, the Danish nanny sent her to school with rye bread and herring, which would have deemed her an instant outcast had she ever eaten the lunch instead of throwing it in the trash every morning. She was forced to buy a hot lunch from the school cafeteria with the other kids whose mothers didn’t give a shit, or she would starve.
Not that it mattered. She didn’t starve, and I traded my lunches with Danica whose mother sent her to school with one slice of ham slapped on a roll. I still see rebellion in a ham sandwich.