Looking back I wish I had had the courage to be different and to add a little culture to the cafeteria at school.”
My friend Lynn Schrempf has a twisted sense of humor and a curious tendency to collect insects in jars while we’re hiking. She is one of the few people I know who sees a snake on the path and, instead of running for her life, stops to take a picture for her kids.
When her children ask her something outside of the box, she sees a learning opportunity. She creates dessert from avocados, and witch’s brew with apple juice and dry ice. No Elf on the Shelf has more fun than at the Schrempf house, and April Fools Day is a dangerous time to be her husband.
She’s also hard to place, being half Okinawan (Japanese) and half American, and has even more mixed-up kids. So inevitably we’ve talked about race and identity. I asked her in what way she felt Otherly, and weirdly the subject of school lunches came up.
I say weirdly because school lunches are so mundane, and yet I resonated. In primary school, I had to eat packed lunches in a small room with a handful of other kids while the rest of the school ate cafeteria food in a large hall. When I spoke to Krista, school lunches were on a list of things that made her feel like an outsider as a child. Brown bread versus white bread. Healthy versus fun. Packed lunch versus cafeteria.
So, again, I’m surprised by the ways in which we can feel Otherly.
Here’s Lynn’s take on school lunches and rice balls (onigiri):
I was raised in a Hapa household, half American and half Japanese. At home in a small town outside Los Angeles, we had an abundance of Japanese influence but outside the house we were only American, and rarely did the two worlds cross. I was horrified every time my mom wanted to put rice in my lunch box. I wanted to have a lunch just like everyone else.
When my first half-a-hapa son was at preschool, I packed special bento boxes for him: lions, pandas and other miscellaneous seasonal shapes made of rice, seaweed, and veggies, cheese cut into flowers, and a colorful assortment of Japanese pickles.
He was the hit of the party every day when his classmates would gather around to see what was in his lunch. I was even asked by his preschool to come in and lead the classes in making rice figures. The children had so much fun and many of them got to try something they had never eaten before.
Looking back to my own days at school, I didn’t even like the sandwiches and would have liked onigiri far better. Looking back I wish I had had the courage to be different and to add a little culture to the cafeteria at school.”