Monday, August 21, 2006

I'm for Peace, But Food Fights Are Cool.

The cover of Sunday's New York Times Magazine read, "Food Fights" followed by a little explanation about school lunches and fat kids. It might have been more sensitive than that, I can't remember.
I jumped to the article and found that the food fight reference was just a clever play on words related to combating unhealthy foods in America's schools.
I wanted to read about food fights.
Growing up, I was simultaneously amazed and confused by school cafeterias. I remember sitting at the table in kindergarten wondering who the ladies were who just walked around. They never served food, they just sauntered through the rows of tables pointing at people. I would quickly learn that these too, were ladies of lunch, but of a different breed. These were the ladies who would grant you permission to walk to the trash, permit you the freedom to buy a slush-puppy, and regulate the volume of an entire room with only the flickering of lights. In a world of Styrofoam trays and small carton milks, they were Gods--who also happened to wear tapered jeans.
I learned to respect their power but also to use it for personal gain. By simply raising my hand I could have the attention of one of these ladies and implore them to help with my Capri Sun straw (why were those so hard to get in?). It was like having a waitress only once they helped open your fruit cocktail, they yelled at you to be quiet, so maybe it wasn't like that.
On our last day of eighth grade word spread early first period that there was to be a food fight during lunch--because nothing says "goodbye grade school" quite like throwing your Lunchables ham at someone's face.
I remember walking around all day completely nervous, that great giddy excited nervous where you're smiling for no reason. This was my first food fight. AH!
So there we all were, sitting in the cafeteria. Those ladies were still walking around though I'm not sure why because I don't remember needing to ask permission to throw away my trash as an 8th grader. But there was a tangible energy in the room as people held on to their pizza crusts and pudding cups. The noise grew louder as we all waited for a single battle cry (They'll never take our freedom!...fries!)
Suspecting something was up, (could it have been the "food fight" chants?) The walking ladies started to demand that everyone throw their food away. "But, um, I'm not done with this clump of corn and um, meat."
The noise grew to an intense level as the other walking ladies ran to the lights and flicked them on and off repeatedly only adding a strobe light effect to our VIP room of chaos. So this continued, all of us waiting for that first brave soul to fire the chicken nugget that would be heard 'round the world, when in walked our Vice Principal.
It's common knowledge that Vice Principals have no other job description other than to be scary. This man did his job very well. (my high school vice principal, not so much. I ran into her at a jethro tull concert one summer and she was wearing a fringe leather jacket. Scary, but in all the most hilarious ways). Anyway, he walks in and the cafeteria fell silent.
He stood where everyone could see him and screamed that our behavior was unacceptable, that lights on and off meant silence, that he knew about the food fight, and that if even a single chip was found on the floor, we would all be held after school.
And then, (and I need to tell you, this is 100% true and perhaps one of only five moments in my life where timing, collective brilliance, and movie-scene magic have come together at once to create a goose bump memory) the Vice Principal said, "You will NOT throw food, and you will NOT speak for the remainder of lunch. I don't want to hear a single BOO out of you."
And literally, a three beat pause elapsed and the entire cafeteria erupted in a unison "boo."
A good old fashioned booing, and it held strong for minutes only heightened by the flickering lights.
Why he chose to say "a single boo out of you" I'll never know. But I'll be eternally grateful.
And that a room full of a few hundred kids could be so quick witted as to break into boo without so much as a cue, is better than any food fight of which I can think.
I was hoping the NYT would have had an article similar to this story. Instead, I read about why chubby kids should eat sweet potatoes.

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