Public Radio International has an article out entitled Kids made fun of my ‘stinky’ lunch, which taught me a hard lesson about life in America that captures a lot of my childhood experiences. I grew up eating the Cantonese food described by one commentator’s classmates as “gross” in the article. Unlike her, I didn’t reject that food, perhaps because I was bullied already in so many other ways that one more way just didn’t seem like such a big deal. But it came at a cost. While others were eating “normal” food, mine was considered anything but. Chicken feet, pigs knuckles, soy sauce eggs–these registered to my classmates as disgusting, and this me–by association–as disgusting. (Of course, I had already claimed the title of Grossout Royalty for myself, so I was sort of okay with that.)
But it’s also why, nowadays, when the foods of my youth have ended up being popularized by hipster restaurants, that I have such mixed feelings about it. I wonder to myself, are the people enjoying this food now the same people that made fun of me when I was a kid? (Or the same sorts of people who made fun of kids like me?) And, if so, what does it mean? Have they changed in any significant way, or is that bullying impulse still there, just redirected?
That said, there seems to be some promise of change in this article. I checked out the Guide for School Food in Culturally Diverse Communities mentioned in the article (put out by the Massachusetts Farm to School Project), and it seems useful in terms of countering some of these harmful school dynamics. As it points out
Identifying and incorporating even a couple of culturally appropriate menu items has the potential to help validate students from diverse ethnic and racial backgrounds. It celebrates and can normalize the experiences of students from multicultural backgrounds, while also potentially extending “children’s understanding and appreciation of their own world and that of others.”
As such, it recommends a number of steps that educators can use to build cultural relevance into school meal programs, and they all seem concrete, effective, and do-able. So, kudos to the Mass Farm to School Project! And to others thinking about these issues today.