Eatocracy recently ran a comment-inducing post entitled "Please don't eat in the bathroom." Devna Shukla, an Associate Producer for CNN's AC360°, shares her own tale of stall dining, how it helped her embrace her Indian heritage, and how she'll never do it again.
Growing up in a small town in Ohio, I had no concept of the true meaning of “diversity.” I was the only girl of color in my small private school and among the sea of blonde hair and blue eyes, my ethnic features always stood out.
My first generation interpretation of diversity was that we all had two competing identities: one inside of school (where I was American) and one at home (where I was Indian). I was just as eager to dress up as a Spice Girl for talent shows as I was to wear the traditional salwar kameez to Indian parties.
My two worlds rarely collided. My parents created a bilingual household and made sure to adopt American traditions like Halloween, and Fourth of July parties.
That all changed when the unthinkable happened one day at school. I opened my lunch box, expecting a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, an apple and a juice box. Instead, my Mom had packed a kachori for me.
Cousin to the samosa, kachoris are small balls filled with a mixture of mung beans and gram flour. Kachoris were my favorite snack – but they were my favorite 'outside of school' snack. This kachori, a small part of my Indian identity, was supposed to stay outside the playground boundaries – mostly out of fear for making me any more different than I already was.
I saw the kachori and I panicked. I didn’t know what to do – or how to explain this “weird” food to my friends. But then again, I really wanted to eat it. So, as a second grader, I did the only rational thing I could think of doing to satisfy both my taste buds and my internal conflict: I ate it in the bathroom.
Hygiene issues aside, this small, quiet moment has become one of the most shameful moments of my life: Why did I doubt myself, my family, my ancestors, my culture? I could’ve just as easily taken it home in my lunchbox, or stood up for myself against my small-minded friends. It wasn’t my mom’s fault for packing it, but my own fault for not embracing my differences and sharing them with my peers.
Fast forward years later when I moved to New York City and was shocked to find a permanent Indian buffet in every Whole Foods, and a city obsessed with Halal carts.
It struck me that while our country has many obstacles facing us, it seems that we are embracing each ingredient that goes into the melting pot of American culture. I learned such an important lesson from my lunch box, and my kachori.
Today I am proud of both my Indian and American roots. If I could go back, I would tell that little girl in the bathroom to be proud of herself and her culture, and eat that kachori with pride - outside the stall.
When everyone has PB&J and you're toting curry or kimchi to school, kids can be cruel - or curious. Share your tales of alienation and acceptance at the lunch table.
PB&J, jelly & cream cheese, bologna & 'merican cheese; ham & cheese. Those were the kinds of sandwiches I took to school. I never thought much of it 'til one girl wanted to try my bologna & cheese sandwich in third grade. She grabbed the sandwich, took a huge bite, gave the rest back to me and spit out her bite onto my plate. Never shared my school lunch with anyone again.
I'm glad I was put in that situation, though. Because I've been in that position where I'm the minority, I've grown to be more accepting of "different" things than most of my peers. :) Silver linings, you know?
Guess my high school was unique (early 1970's) – we used to fight over who got to share the "interesting" stuff. A friend's mom was Asian and made spring rolls that were to die for. Luckily, she always packed extra!
Several years ago, I'm a step-mom, introducing foods that are new to step-kids. They're raised by their mom to reject anything from their dad (not an exaggeration) and must report back to mom. She said I 'forced' them to eat "weird food' such as tri-color rotelli, alfredo sauce, enchiladas, pesto, feta, turkey bacon, and omelets. When the family counselor agreed that the consequence of their refusing to even try these 'weird foods' was that they had to make their own PBJ, mom cried CHILD ABUSE. They really liked the food then, and crave these foods now – but not in front of mom. She imposed a sort of 'home' stall-eating on her own kids.
I can remember I did that, too, but for different reasons. It was the spring of my 8th grade year and I spent weeks being bullied by the girls who were once my friends. We parted ways when I tried to stop them from bullying a boy at school, and I became the subject of their ridicule. I couldn't stand it anymore, and I started eating my lunch (and spending breaks) in the bathroom. I was so ashamed of it having come down to me hiding in the bathroom and eating lunch there, that I would hide in a stall any time someone came in. Once that year passed, I moved to a new school and began again. I told myself I would NEVER allow myself to be in such a situation again. I feel terrible for those of you who had to endure such things due to discrimination, bullying, etc. No one should have to hide out and eat lunch in a bathroom stall. No one.
The cafeteria at Holy Name grade school was strong on peanut butter and marmelade as well as a tasteless chicken broth
and what we called bedbug (lentil) soup. Dessert was usually an orange. Nobody was allowed to pack a lunch.
I am really thankful for this article because this is exactly how I felt when I was younger. To be honest, I am still struggling with my Indian heritage, and I am now in my twenties. I love my family and I love our culture, but I wish people were more educated and didn't place judgement on me that prevents me from fully accepting and being happy with my dual identity.
Be proud of who you are and of your culture!!! You have such a rich and full culture – embrace it. Anyone who doesn't accept it (or accept you) aren't worth bothering with. We're all humans, and our cultures make life interesting and make us unique. :)
Parini – Yeah – just be yourself – stick with the people who appreciate you for who you are – ALL of who you are. Understand that the rest have not yet grown to appreciate the diiferences of culture and the similarities of humanity – and some never will.
I am 33 and work in a multinational corporation here in arizona. As a first generation immigrant from India, I have learned to differentiate between curiosity and racism. If someone with curiosity asks me a question about food I usually give them details..If its the other, I tell them- "There are two ways I can respond to you depending on why you ask- 1) tell u what it is or 2) tell u to mind your own freakin business" and that usually shuts them up..
Dear Parini, I am an Indian too. And this still happens at workplace. I carry Indian food, plus I am vegetarian. Everytime I sit down to eat, I am asked two things. 1.) Is that curry?( Even if its plain rice) 2.) Is that veggie? Every. Single. Day. Then I decided to ask them every single day if that was meat? I laughed it all off. But I can see how it can be such an alienating experience specially in childhood. Hugs.....
I guess I was lucky, being an Army Brat. we were always surrounded by different cultures and so food was never a problem. We ate stuff for lunch that you wouldn't believe and I am so happy that I was exposed to so many kinds of tastes. It took a long time to convince my kid that there is more to food than spaghetti, hamburgers and mac-n-cheese, but she is coming around finally.
Now, I do make her lunch because the school food reeks! Her friends make fun of her, but then always want her to "share".
I guess, in the end, it has to be about not worrying about what the others think and be proud of your heritage (food or otherwise).
As a Vietnamese American growing up in the Midwest, I remember how the kids would make fun of the soybean milk and tofu I would have in my lunch box. My father also told me how he drink cà phê sữa đá (Vietnamese iced coffee with condensed milk) and how his co-workers would comment how strange it was to drink cold coffee with milk. Strange how eating habits change within a matter of decades.
Right? My dad came back from the war liking cà phê sữa đá and people didn't get it then. Now they pay $5 for it at Starbucks!
I'm never ashamed of eating in the bathroom sometimes. Certainly not the most appealing place to grab a bite, but I only do it when i'm just too hungry right in the middle of my work and especially during the busiest hours of the day that it would be impossible for me to request for a break.
I was lucky to have the opposite problem in high school. I lived just a block away from the school and my mom would bring me hot lunches every day. Broiled chicken and peppers, hot ham sandwiches with fried apples, homemade veggie soup and hot biscuits. There was never room around me at the table in the cafeteria because people would crowd around to "share" my lunch (mom always packed extra). Which made me wonder if the kitchen staff ever got a clue that, yes, teenagers DO love nutritious food, so why not attempt to make some! I got stares from those not my friends, and some mean comments about my mother's "obvious paranoia" about school lunches. But I always assumed it was just jealousy. I would have been willing to share with anyone.
I am not sure I understand the comment made by Brandy; however, I do understand how the writer felt at the time. Being a minority who has had the experience of having to fit in, I understand how it is important to be accepted. In that role, you as the one attempting to be accepted, will do anything not to stand out as different.
Brandy please try to understand, as a minority, you do not want the people around you to change, you just want to be accpeted. You have missed the entire point.
Maybe I read it wrong, but what I got from Brandy's post is that there are people who not only allow their children to be snobbish and rude to kids with differences, but will accept and, at times, enforce it. Many of us who grew up decades ago seem to think it was "that era" but not the current one, but it still goes on, and will continue to go on unless the parents stop accepting and enforcing it. I think Brandy attacked it from a white's point of view, but it happens from all cultures. Maybe it's taboo to say it, but it does, I'm a minority and I've seen it first-hand from both ends of the spectrum. That's why I won't allow it in my household and never will, whether we're talking about beliefs, customs, or -especially- food. ;-)
And what does this article and its attached comments tell us??...That parents need to stop letting their kids act like asses, and teach them how to be decent to others. It's funny that the people complaining about how white kids made fun of their food, don't have any problems now making fun of what the white kids were eating? How is your adult behavior now any better than that of ignorant children from your school days? I'm all for embracing certain elements of other cultures, but I also find it irritating that many of those who expect Americans/whites to do that, also seem to insist in some way, on some level, that we also bow down and proclaim that our own foods/traditions/beliefs are somehow inferior to theirs – instead of reciprocating the type of acceptance they are demanding from others. W.T.H.
Whites make fun of Whites also. Kiwi, blueberries, peeled oranges or pitted cherries for fruit – "eew", hot soup in a thermos – 'eew", yogurt cups – "eew"... You name it! Everything different is "eew". You MUST buy school lunch in order to fit in, and you MUST throw half of it in the garbage in order to fit in. then, you MUST buy ice cream or a cookie in order to fit in. Those kids are as stupid as their parents who allow it. Perhaps, parents should take their kids to some poor country and MAKE them eat what those kids eat, and if they won't – then, go to bed hungry! I am sure there will be less allergies and other food related problems within a week.
^5 Brandy and Marie! I'm totally with both of you on this. I've heard parents who will let everything pass with a sigh and, "Well, that's how kids are at that age." Um, no... Whenever I'd catch my kids being spiteful or snubbing something different, I sat them down and explained how they're making the other person feel. "Do unto others" They've actually grown into pretty good teenagers, so I'm hoping they'll eventually teach their own kids the same someday.
I grew up in a small town founded by german immigrants. Our Catholic school had no "school lunches" or cafeteria...we ate at our desks. We all had things like PB&J, bologna, ham, goulach, spagetti, hot dogs and saurkraut, and cheese sandwiches. One girl's mother worked nearby and almost always brought her a hamburger from the local fast food place. We were all jealous. The one lay-teacher we had came up with a smart plan. Anyone who had something they wanted to trade could put it on her desk and pick from something that was placed up there. That kept alot of food from going into the trash. In the event someone could not afford to bring lunch, there was almost always something there for them to eat:)
My only question is: what kind of schools did yall go to?!? I grew up in a "hood" type place and most of the kids had way too many problems at home to give a fxck what someone was eating for lunch.
I KNOW, right? LOL
I was a teacher in a metropolitan area where I had a new student straight from India. He wanted to hide under the table to eat his lunch. So I sat with him and asked if he would share his lunch and i would share mine. I told him his mom's food was really good and to be be proud because lots of kids eat lots of different foods. But I was so sad he felt he had to hide.
It is teachers like you who make a difference in this world. Thank you for being so kind to a scared child.
No one cared what I brought for lunch because no one even wanted to talk me. I had a really bad underbite and people would just make fun of me all day. I wished I could have stayed in the bathroom the entire school day. I hated my childhood and I'm happy it's over.
That's terrible. :( Kids can be so damned cruel.
yeah, lunch was the least of my worries also. I had/have a decent-size scar on my cheek that kids made fun of all thru grade school for 9 yrs.
Food wasn't an issue in grade school in Hawaii. It was my very blonde hair, braces and heighth. I stood out like a sour thumb in the local elementary school. Kids were mean but the teachers were worse! I hated school from a very young age all the way through high school.
Every kid at some time or another feels like the oddball, regardless of race. My mom was going through her "earth mother" phase when I was in first grade. I assure you, alfalfa sprouts are just as hard to explain to kids holding twinkies.
Totally. My mom had an earthy phase and I got carob bars in my lunchbox. Try explaining that to a kid when you thought you just traded a Hershey for a Twinkie. Or kids would eagerly stay for dinner, see what we were having (I'm half Indian), and then decide "I really ought to go home."
I certainly hope this was the worst traumatic issue in this girls life in school.
This Country has been a melding pot for many years. This would have been nothing new to many kids.
I went to school over 50 years ago and it was far different then, with race and culture. We ate what we had, and even though racism was rampant back in the mid to late 60's this was not an issue.
I certainly hope that this girl is not in Psychological councilling or on Prozac or Valium for her entire life over this.
I remember growing up in Canada in the early 1980's and my mom packing aloo paratha (spicy potato mixture stuffed in flat bread) in my Smurfs lunchbox. My mom would get up extra early to make the paratha fresh for me because she knew how much I loved, and still love, the dish. Thankfully there was 1 other India kid in my school who would sit next to me at lunch time (and as the only other Indian family in town, happened to be a friend of the family). If we hadn't stuck together, our lunches would definitely have gone uneaten or eaten in hiding. We got funny stares because of the looks and smells of our food but we couldn't understand why our classmates didn't understand how yummy our spicy meals were in comparison to reheated Campbell's soup and white bread sandwiches. Not to say that we didn't also have standard lunchbox meals but sometimes my loving mom would sneak in an Indian treat or 2.
As we got older, my "gora" friends (the non-Indians from school) would come over and sample my mom's cooking – I think my mom's cooking got many of them hooked on the spicy cuisine. We since moved from that small Canadian town but my old friends still reminisce about mom's cooking and how she always had some "strange" food for them to try :)
When I was going to school in Louisiana, back in the 1960s, the norm was to eat the slop doled out at the school cafeteria. My mother visited one day and was appalled at what we were given to eat, and packed my lunch after that. She actually had to get permission from the principal of the school to do this! What is more, I was not permitted to sit in the lunchroom to eat with the other kids, because I was not conforming to the standard! So I ate a lot of lunches in the bathroom or hidden somewhere else on campus.
I didn't have to be of another ethnicity to be "different" – I just had to commit the sin of not doing exactly what everyone else was doing, eating nearly inedible slop off the plastic trays in the lunchroom.
Mom always bought foil paper. Never plastic wrap or sandwich bags. She couldn't afford it. It only took one time for me to show up with a sandwich wrapped in foil paper for me to realize that I could not eat lunch in the cafeteria. On top of that I was terribly shy. Shyness + Foil Paper = Lunch in the bathroom stall! Such a sad time. Glad it's over. Also good to know I wasn't the only one that did it. Love you guys! Thanks for sharing.
The name says it all, my father frm west Virginia was stationed in Okinawa, where he met my mother. Talk about a culture setback. But my thought is...........why is it that we cannot ACCEPT ppl as they are like we ACCPET their food??
R we ourselves to blame for the lack of educating r kids of all the culture differences n r society, OR is it bcuz FOOD doesnt care who likes it or not and who it mingles with???
Loved all the shared stories and loved most of the mentioned food if it could only be as simple as US mingling together as we do with our food.
I am from the San Joaquin Valley in California. I remember the other kids being jealous of my less than healthy but utterly delicious deep fried bean and cheese burritos. My mother would even add small Tupperware dishes with homemade salsa and guacamole. I now leave in Istanbul, Turkey where guests to my home turn their noses up and look down on my homemade guacamole. I ignore their behavior. The gusto with which I consume the guacamole later makes them all timidly try it. Before they know it, they are scrapping the bottom of the bowl with their forks or small pieces of bread to get the very last drop! I thank my mother for teaching me to be proud of my culinary heritage!
You have a way with words. You just made me really want some guacamole!
I remember this well. As first generation Americans – parents from Germany and England respectively – my sister and I often had different food in our lunchboxes than our peers had. We also had tea in our thermoses. Kids in our Kentucky schools were very intolerant, not just of our food, but also of our accents and our clothing. Kids can be very cruel about differences. My own sweet little three year old daughter is very compassionate though, and I hope she stays that way.
Growing up in the CA desert, I don't remember any laughter at "different food", but I don't remember much "different food" on campus, either. I do remember that we had a couple of girls from Israel one year in my class, and my teacher had them bring in some of the food for Passover. And I doubly appreciate the Armenian deli that my friends and I hit in HS for the occasional cheap meal. I guess I can thank my parents for making me try at least one bite of everything, and for their willingness to eat meals beyond the usual Italian/Mexican/Chinese pate . I always got jealous when I went to honor orchestra and my host family was doing the hot dog thing, and my parents were eating at the local Basque restaurant.
Lol not sure what the parents ate for lunch, but it damn sure was whatever was packed. My mom was growing up in the tail end of WW2, & my dad's 'rents were incredibly strict.. Until this past year the most 'international' my parents got were pizza & spaghetti.. My fiancee actually got them to eat tacos con costillas marinada de res (marinated beef ribs), al pastor, grilled nopales (cactus), mole, & pan dulce. My dad, lover of spicy food, eveb found a new love for grilled/roasted whole jalepenos. Needless to say, they -loved- everything & cant wait to eat it again.
Never ate lunch at school. Only lived 4 blocks from home. Went home for lunch.
Thank you for contributing to the discussion. Your comment was both insightful and informative. The depth of your knowledge of the topic and empathy for the subjects is inspiring.
Thanks for implying you've spent at least some of your nights watching a cartoon. D'oh!
HA I lived 4 blocks from school but they would never dream of letting me go home for lunch. Dad owned a bar so he worked afternoons/evenings but that didn't mean I got to go home for lunch. They wouldn't even take me forgotten lunch or lunch money. If it was forgotten then I could starve for all they cared.
My parents were vegetarian in the 70s when it definitly wasn't cool yet. When we moved to a rural Arkansas community from the big city my parents were the ones who caved under peer pressure and started eating meat. They were the ones who made me feel ashamed of being different. And good luck getting anything more ethnic than spaghetti in our house. I don't understand the generation my parents came from, but I love them anyway! Thank God we live in a much more diverse and accepting world today.
I think kids everywhere will find something wrong with anything that is different. Being a white girl going to a mostly white school, my friends used to make fun of me for bringing whole tomatoes and avocadoes instead of apples and oranges. Later, when I went to another school with mostly rich kids, they had these fancy lunches homemade by their housekeepers, and I had PBJ or lunchables. I was so embarrassed of my generic lunches, until the kids started begging me to trade with them, since their parents never let them eat "junk food". I was happy to comply.
I'm a white girl, but seeing as how my family spent plenty of time in Hawaii, we fear no can of Spam. Bringing a spam sandwich to school in Colorado will earn a few raised eyebrows. Later on in high school we had a bunch of Japanese people touring the place one day. They were in my last class before lunch and followed us to the cafegymatorium where they proceeded to pass around assorted Japanese nibbles. I was the only person at the table excited about any of it and this was in a school with a decent Asian population. Not particularly Japanese, but we had loads of Hmong kids and the city did sport its own full size Asian supermarket where all different people shopped. But still, I was the only one really game for it. Had I not been raised popping arari crackers instead of chips in front of the TV, it would have been different. Now that I'm an adult, I'm game to eat most anything, animal, vegetable, and maybe even mineral, lol.
Didn't find out until decades later that my mom had been banished from my elementary school teacher's lounge in the cafeteria. She was showing up just before lunch hour toting a couple of sacks loaded with piping hot, homemade burritos, tacos, or sandwiches, which she would sell to the teachers and administrators. Lunch ladies didn't like that and kicked her out for taking away their profits. Somehow mom still managed to feed the principal, vice principal and office staff on the sneak after that.
When I was in junior high we had to do a project about a different country and make a food dish. Being an extremely proud 4th generation Ukrainian American I chose Ukraine. I had grown up eating Ukrainian food every week, going to churches where the services were in Old Church Slavonic or Ukrainian, and was a member of the local folk dance ensemble. Being Ukrainian was part of my everyday life and I wasn't ashamed of it. I was so proud of the little cookies I made with sweet dough and a sweet walnut filling. I explained that we called them kolochies. Right away someone yelled GLOBkies? The whole class laughed and no one would touch them saying they looked disgusting. My name became synonymous with the name they gave my cookies and followed me all the way up until senior year. Didn't care. Those cookies are so good!!!
Kids used to make fun of my peanut butter and jelly sandwich saying the peanut butter looked like poop. They also made fun of my sandwiches that used mustard or mayo because it looked like urine and other unmentionables. Then again, I didn't care much for these things but sometimes we ran out of prosciutto or mortadella and I never managed to get my tomato sandwich to school without it getting incredibly soggy. We had no cafeteria and ate lunch at home though, so many times I wouldn't even eat my snack sandwich and just dumped it in the trash or forgot it in my backpack to be found disgustingly squished by a ton of text books.
Thank you for contributing to the discussion. Your comment was both insightful and informative. The depth of your knowledge of the topic and empathy for the subjects is inspiring.
Your sarcasm is not appreciated.
I have been eating lunch in school cafeterias or classrooms since 1963 and never really thought about what we were having until a student asked about sharing food 25 years ago. He asked, "if I had any WBF". I said, "What's WBF"? He said, "You know PBJ, tuna fish salad, macaroni and cheese, white boy food"! We always put on the school menus Mexican Food, Chinese Food or Italian and list what it is but never WBF! Personnally I would rather try new varieties of ethnic foods than the same WBF everyday! Teach your children to be proud of their culture and pass it on! I'm hungry
This article and the following comments made me feel a little sad. To me, food is one of the many ways my parents expressed their love for me. If I were teased by classmates about something my mom lovingly prepared for me, I would have felt horrible. I share one of my memories to show that growing up in Hawaii, fortunately, things were different. I grew up in Honolulu in the 80's. In elementary and high school, the majority of my classmates were of Asian American and/or Pacific Islander descent...Caucasians were the "minority." When we went on field trips, the local kids' moms would pack bento lunches with musubi, scrambled eggs, shoyu hotdog, spam, arare, frozen Hawaiian Sun juice can wrapped in tin foil, etc. The few white kids at our school would maybe have an orange for lunch...once, one kid's mom packed him an onion. We would often share our food with the white kids, and they were definitely eager to partake in it...even the spam :o)
Musubi is awesome! My own 10-year-old mixed daughter loves to mystify her summer camp counselors by eating seaweed chips like Doritos. Both my Mulatto hubby and I, being part Chinese/Filipino, are so proud of her enjoying her ethnic uniqueness.
In kindergarten ('94) I was the only American child in a classroom filled with Japanese kids. My mother worked as a teaching assistant, so she wanted me to go there. I often ate outside on the steps rather than in the bathroom, but the concept is the same. Everyone has times like that; you want to fit in, but you feel different. I don't think it's shameful at all if you learn from the experience.
LOL – Ohio is a tough place for brown people...I felt the same way. My mother is from Argentina, and our two big family celebration foods were lengua a la vinagreta (cow's tongue in viniagrette) and paella with squid whiskers. However, I remember horrifying my classmates with things as simple as plain avocado.
I lived in Ohio for four miserable years. I am white and looked no different than some of my neighbors, but I was looked down upon for living in a "mixed" neighborhood. I also feed my family foods from many cultures, and found the cashiers at the local store perplexed when I bought kale and collards. Remember: be proud of who you are. If there is anyone for whom you should feel sorry, it is the people who are not willing to learn about other cultures.
I used to get so upset just at the thought of my mother putting japanese food in my lunch box. Same as the author, I loved japanese food at home, but I had a different identity at school. Having two kids of my own now I can appreciate bento boxes and all the love that goes into them. I wish I had the courage to appreciate my heritage at school, even if it came in a lunch box. Now I pack up my 4-year-old his lunch complete with furikake-filled rice balls, rice crackers, seaweed snacks, mochi, and occasionally a calpico. I love that he loves it!
Same exact thing happened to me, but I was sent to school with aloo poori – spiced potatoes in a soft, doughy wrap – along with a bag full of pomegranate seeds (this is in 1984). I was quickly on the receiving end of a barrage of questions about my strange lunch. In retrospect, I understand that the kids probably were not ill-intentioned and just approached it as they would have at home if presented with broccoli. I was already sensitive to my differences and explained away the pomegranate seeds (which seemed less controversial) while I carefully tucked my delicious aloo poori back in my brown paper bag, where it remained uneaten.
I remember my second day of kinder, my mother packed my lunch and expected a fruit and what did I find? A piece of mexican pastry! I was not embarrased until a stupid and ignorant mexican classmate started to laugh. It embarassed me then but after many years I realized that idiot was more mexican than me. I was at least a us citizen born to legal residents. He on the other hand was illegal. What a shame he made fun of me when it was most probably what he ate every morning for breakfast.
I find it interesting that you share your story of shame and ridicule by shaming and ridiculing the other person.
Didn't shame or ridicule anyone IMO...just said they were illegal. Any shame is on their part.
"Stupid" and "ignorant" aren't shame and ridicule?
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