Congrats to Juliette Kaplan, the winner of the Bumbershoot “Food for Thought” writing contest. Her poem below deals with food and identity and fitting in.
I was the kid
who brought her lunch
Tupperware was not cool.
When people asked me,
“Where are your parents from”
Like a well-rehearsed robot, I would recite,
“My mom is from the Philippines,
and my dad is from the Former Soviet Union.”
I thought he was from the Ukraine
But I just said what I heard from my mom.
Needless to say,
they were foreign,
with no experience with lunch time protocol,
Or Peanut butter and jelly.
Oh how I longed for gushers and handisnacks,
Dunkaroos and chex mix.
Why buy special food for lunch, when last night’s dinner waits to be re-warmed?
My food did not look like colorful plastic jewels,
or glorious, cheesy orange goo.
I wanted to eat commercials, my parents fed me…
My mother’s chicken adobo, that she marinated for days
in a recipe that endured Spanish colonization,
and American immigration.
Babushka’s mashed potatoes and Russian meat patties
that lie somewhere between hamburgers and meatloaf…
“What are you eating Julie?”
The dreaded question.
“It’s called catletka, it’s this Russian thing,” I would grumble, as I bowed my head in shame.
Or maybe it was
Similar to a lychee fruit, it came in cans of heavy syrup
and was transferred to Tupperware
for me to carefully balance
so it did not leak,
and make me as sticky and unappealing to other kids
as my bulky Tupperware lunch was to me.
Oh how I longed for a nifty paper sack…
But why on earth would we buy paper sacks,
when we have plenty of plastic ones
from the grocery store?
Tupperware did not fit nicely
into nifty paper sacks.
Lines of children
with lunch boxes with Velcro
and Disney pictures and superheroes
and a plethora of nifty paper sacks!
And then me,
trying to hide
my crumply white plastic grocery bag-
The handles tied into… not even a friendly bow,
but stiff, alert rabbit ears,
conspicuous, and scared,
Giving me away!
So desperate, so uncool.
“There’s no microwave at school, DAD!”
A lousy and fruitless attempt to be sure,
How could they ever understand?
“That’s ridiculous!” he said,
“Is there a kitchen?
Then there’s a microwave!”
I hated my stupid Tupperware,
and my quick, covert trips across the cafeteria
with the regretful request
my uncool lunch—
that was really last night’s dinner.
But at least I dodged
when the trading frenzy erupted—
Fruit-by-the-foot thrown across the table,
egg salad, on white bread
Preservative-free, non-English words, did not fly among these kids…
Oh Tupperware, you were the source of my social demise.
But I forgive you, Mom and Dad,
for the years of anguish I endured
in the closed mind of the American school lunch room,
unwelcome to aromas of heritage and love.
Because now I’ll take Tupperware,
With delicious delicacies from your respective homelands
over boring PB and J,