Milwaukee Public Schools—the system responsible for my education from K-4* through fifth grade—has announced that it hopes to offer free lunch to all students this year. When I heard, my first thought was of course to reminisce about my personal favorite MPS lunch, the mock chicken leg. I’m tickled to discover that I’m not the only one.
Overall I’m quite pleased with the lunches I got at MPS, not least because they were less than $2. (I did get a second milk, though. That was a thing some of us did and I don’t remember whether it was because we were really thirsty, big fans of dairy, or just trying to be cool. Possibly all three.) Also, you never actually paid in money at the cafeteria. You had to give money to your teacher (or, if you got your lunch for free because you were poor* your name got crossed off some sort of list) and she gave you a lunch ticket. Extra milks were a separate ticket. And thus began my first experience with specie.**
(For the last few years of my MPS experience, our milk came in pouches rather than cartons. We were told this was more environmentally friendly. Getting the straw in without puncturing the whole setup was impossible, sort of like with a Capri Sun or drawing blood.)
But that’s just the payment. Let’s talk about the food. Other than the mock chicken leg, I remember very little of it…except that I had one of those weird childhood aversions to the sub sandwiches, and that the tacos hurt my mouth. That’s right, kids: When I was your age, we ate HARD TACOS.
Now, though? Here is an actual listing from the August 2014 MPS menu:
TURKEY AND CHEESE SANDWICH ON WHOLE GRAIN BUN
BUTTERMILK RANCH DIP
CHOICE OF MILK
Never mind that the condiments are listed separately. There are probably legal reasons. Let’s focus on the fact that this meal includes two vegetables, and the meat is—one assumes—identifiable as turkey. What the what?
FRENCH TOAST STICKS
WARM CINNAMON APPLE SLICES
CHOICE OF MILK
Breakfast for lunch? Are you kidding me? Again with the carrots, though. They must have a shedload of carrots, and are trying to offload them at every meal. “Pizza? Add a side of carrots. Sandwiches? Let’s throw some carrots on there. French toast? WITH CARROTS IT IS.” Unless carrots for breakfast is a thing that I’ve just been missing out on lo these many years?
Anyway, now it looks like everyone will get their mock chicken legs, tater tots, and carrots for free. Not that many kids ever brought their lunch to my recollection—why pack a sandwich when you can get the whole kit-and-caboodle for a couple of bucks? But still. There is now literally such a thing as a free lunch at Milwaukee public Schools. Hometown heroes, indeed.
* The actual term was probably something like “economically disadvantaged” but I’m calling a spade a spade here, people.
** Others include Bible bucks at Vacation Bible School and the points schemes at casinos. Those have resulted in far less food, alas.