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90. School Lunch

Classification: Specialty

In grade school, lunch hour was a pretty routine cycle, perhaps resembling prison-life chow time in the Big House: the authoritarian regime subduing the captives while providing a basic meal designed to neither upset or excite. Often, it was potatoes with a meat/carrot mash-up and gravy, or maybe some fish sticks with highly-suspect tartar. By age 12, I had consumed enough weiner toasties to circle the globe twice. Normally, we’d harvest only the highlights of lunch without touching the vegetables, before hoisting our trays upon the unfriendly dishwasher* who would force a return to our table to finish eating, and in turn setting off a game of cat and mouse where we’d lie-in-wait for the inevitable pre-recess bullrush at the tray drop-off. It was an exercise designed to effectively break the spirit, and more than once I was forced into eating by using methods no longer recommended by leading pediatricians, school psychologists, and nutritionists.

* In hindsight, it’s now pretty transparent that the dishwashers were on some sort of work-release program, but as 9-year-olds we could never grasp why they always had to be so mean.

But all of that changed by middle school, when pizza started to appear on the monthly menu grid, printed in agate-type by the town newspaper. At first, it was a “spot starter”, but it eventually worked its way into the regular rotation, and by the time I entered high school, it was the bona fide ace—the Cy Young of schoolboy cuisine. On Pizza Day, whispers started in homeroom, and the buzz continued to build throughout the morning. It was a genuine event, towering above its peers, and the distance that separated it from even the second-best lunch option was staggering. It’s definitely not a first-ballot Hall of Famer; it’s more likely to be voted in by the Veteran’s Committee because it was pretty pedestrian when graded by traditional metrics. But in Wins Above Replacement Meal (WARM), School Lunch Pizza was in a class by itself. (7 of 10 stars.)

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