Historic lunchbox, 1880s. Keep up-to-date on: © 2020 Smithsonian Magazine. Some days, she hesitates before packing her daughter’s lunch with food she fears other children will consider stinky. At Boston’s Trade School for Girls, lunch selections included celery soup with croutons, stuffed tomatoes, apple shortcake, baked beans and brown bread, and cocoa to drink—prepared by the girls as part of their domestic science program. “Kung Fu” by Thermos L.L.C., 1974. The Immigration Act of 1917 imposed a literacy requirement and banned Asian immigration almost entirely. “The Beatles” by Aladdin Industries, 1965; “Yellow Submarine” by Thermos L.L.C., 1968; “Psychadelic” by Aladdin Industries, 1969. The message I hoped to get across was: “Hey, I dig Snoopy. In Jewish schools, the SLC invited rabbis to inspect the kitchens. Mickey Mouse was the first popular character to grace the front of a lunch box, in 1935. Fruits, vegetables, and whole grains didn’t stand a chance against the rising tide of fast food. Harry S. Truman Library & Museum. American School Lunch Is Becoming More Diverse, Like It Was in the 1910s. the most sugar recorded was 98% of sugar. President Truman signed the National School Lunch Act in 1946, making permanent what had previously been a year-to-year appropriation by Congress. When American cooks failed to capture cuisines’ authentic flavors (“You Americans take all the nerve out of our macaroni,” an Italian girl told Kittredge), the program hired Italian and Jewish cooks instead. Worker’s lunch box, by Thermos L.L.C., 1920s. “Jonathan Livingston Seagull” by Aladdin Industries, 1974. During winter, sandwiches stored next to the outside walls could freeze before lunchtime and had to be thawed on the stove. With the integration of black and white Americans in most schools, the student population increases and the cafeteria becomes more streamlined. Terms of Use Department of Agriculture. An added bonus of my Peanuts lunch box was that it was covered in comic strips, so just in case the lunch box failed to provide a conversation starter, I always had something to read as I ate my cheese and crackers, apple, and alphabet soup from the coordinating Thermos that fit neatly inside the metal box. Richard Strauss / SI. Follow us on Twitter to get the latest on the world's hidden wonders. Instead, I considered my most important September decision to be choosing the right lunch box. In the 1980s, early in the Reagan Administration, the Agriculture Department had to retract its proposal to make ketchup and pickle relish count as vegetables in school lunches amid a national outcry. The school day did not end until 3:30 so a longer lunch period did not mean we had less time in classes. They are distinct neighborhoods. In some rural communities, children would bring food from home or, if their teacher was industrious, bring ingredients for a communal stew cooked over a kettle. 1890 Cordelia (Hornaday) Knott was born (died April 23, 1974). Rich, protein-heavy dishes are common during this time when private companies begin contracting with school districts. Events may be canceled, but you can still enjoy historic blue-ribbon recipes. Although Mead’s guidelines payed lip service to diversity, their imposition of a standard diet ultimately implied that bland foods were properly “American,” while other foods—whether spicy or “stinky”—were alien. But the success didn’t last long. Mead’s vision of “innocuous food” had a fatal flaw: lack of seasoning doesn’t actually mean neutrality. In the late '80s, a handful of Oscar Mayer employees tasked with selling more of the company’s bologna came up with one of the best-selling kids' products of all time: Lunchables. And it has changed dramatically over the years, just like education itself. Foods once considered ethnic, like pizza, enchiladas, and chili con carne, made their way onto school menus. “They give us the food of animals to eat and send it home with our children!” (Covello had his own lunch box moment when he hid his Italian-bread-and-salami sandwiches for fear his friends “of the white-bread-and-ham upbringing” would make fun of him.). Co-founder, with her husband Walter, of Knott's Berry Farm in California. “This is who we are,” she says. This program ran off the labor and dedication of mothers who volunteered to plan, create, and serve meals to children in need. The National School Lunch Act is passed, expanding school lunch programs throughout the country and providing free lunches to underprivileged students. While the National School Lunch Act was signed in 1946, the country’s first school food programs began decades earlier, in the immigrant tenements of turn-of-the-century cities. The vast majority of children in the early 1900s went home for lunch. Sign up for our newsletter and enter to win the second edition of our book. Houston’s schools, for one, now offer turkey hot dogs, roasted summer squash, and fresh broccoli florets in addition to pizza, cheeseburgers, and chicken nuggets. Richard Strauss / SI. The Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act is signed, and school lunch nutrition standards are reevaluated. I made our lunches today. But her daughter was nonchalant—it was just another school day. In New York’s central facility, 100 workers each produced 300 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches per hour, while dozens of vats hard-boiled eggs en masse. A food writer and restaurant professional, Dao now loves the cuisine she was once embarrassed by. In addition to traditional hot lunches, many began serving cold lunches, which included a variety of sandwiches, cottage cheese, pork and apple salads, tomato wedges, and ice cream. This long-extinct pungent delight has made a comeback in Wisconsin. Kids didn’t get much for their money [PDF]: Pea soup, lentils, or rice and a piece of bread was a common offering. Harold Dorwin / SI. “It’s pointing out difference at a time in your life when you don’t necessarily want to be different,” she says. As more and more parents took jobs in factories and elsewhere outside the home, many children were left without food options. Mead recommended that school lunch menus consist of “food that is fairly innocuous and has low emotional value.” Spicy foods, cream sauce, and strong flavors were out; meat pies, plain soups, and boiled vegetables were in. The Reductive Seduction Of Other People’s Problems, Dear 14-Year-Old Boy, You Are Not Entitled To Sex, I Am The Nameless African From Your Last Instagram Post. Billy never has time to eat his lunch… Lunch bags and boxes, meanwhile, overflowed with indulgent gems like Dunkaroos, Gushers, Teddy Grahams, Ecto Coolers and bottles of Squeeze-It. It’s Too Late For An Apology. Blame Canada, Make the Midwest's Award-Winning State-Fair Foods at Home, In Canada, Gold Rush-Era Garbage Reveals a History of Chinese Immigrant Cuisine, The Gastro Obscura Guide to Cooking School-Lunch Classics, Coyolillo’s Carnival Is a Celebration of Afro-Mexican Culture, How Chinese Folk Dancers Continue to Practice During Quarantine, Show & Tell: Inside a House of Hot Sauce With Vic Clinco, The Secret to China's Bounciest Meatballs, The Gastro Obscura Guide to NYC Restaurants Delivering Right Now, sears with recollections of her childhood anxiety, Jacob Riis, Library of Congress/Public Domain, hid his Italian-bread-and-salami sandwiches, National Farm to School Network/Used with permission, Sign up for our email, delivered twice a week. Some schools installed vegetable gardens, and many began feeding students meals that would have seemed downright strange two decades prior. It was a special treat to have a sandwich with meat in it. In the decades that followed, the forces of business, public health, and politics would transform school lunches into a communal experience filled with adolescent power struggles, branded lunch boxes, and heaping portions of mystery meat. (1). Lisa Bramen was a frequent contributor to Smithsonian.com's Food and Think blog. By 2005, half of all U.S. schools offered fast food in their cafeterias, with an even higher percentage carrying soda and snack vending machines. And it has changed dramatically over the years, just like education itself. President Truman signed the National School Lunch Act in 1946, making permanent what had previously been a year-to-year appropriation by Congress. Why Did Ancient Egyptian Scribes Use Lead-Based Ink? Seven decades after the National School Lunch Program became law, immigrant kids continue to face prejudice for eating food their peers consider “too ethnic.” Their lunch box moments are reminders of an assimilationist legacy. Photo courtesy of Flickr user fortinbras. There is a missing decade because there were no pictures freely available. In 1979, the USDA put out guidelines that said school lunches needed only to provide "minimum nutritional value.". What is it about school lunch that evokes such intense feelings of nostalgia, loathing and delight? The vast majority of children in the early 1900s went home for lunch. She wants her two daughters to be strong and unashamed.