The kid with the stinky lunch
November 15th, 2011
12:15 PM ET
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Food says so much about where you’ve come from, where you’ve decided to go, and the lessons you’ve learned. It’s geography, politics, tradition, belief and so much more and these next two weeks, we invite you to dig in and discover the rich, ever-evolving taste of America in 2011. Catch up on past coverage and stay tuned for the live blog from our Secret Supper in Chicago on Wednesday night starting at 6:00 CT.

When you're all grown up and on your own and have lived a bit of life, it's easier to find peace with your weirdness. All those little and large things that set you apart as a child - your goofy-looking nose, talent for playing bassoon or obsession with the insides of small electronic devices - are what make you the gorgeous, fascinating, resilient adult you are today.

Back then, though, kids may not have been so kind. Conformity is key in formative years - it teaches us all to walk on the right, chew with our mouths closed and remain reasonably clothed in public places. But it can have a cruel edge if wielded by the callow.

Enter the elementary school lunchroom, where a break from the regimen of the day can often descend into food-flinging anarchy. PB&J or bologna sandwiches are the brown bag standard, and anything other than that is regarded as plain old freaky.

Kids from immigrant families are up against a lot, and the pressure to assimilate to their new culture outside the confines of home can be overwhelming. For many it's a matter of retraining speech patterns, learning all new pop culture icons or convincing their parents that really, it's okay to dress down in jeans and sneakers; everybody does. But they can't control what goes into their lunchbox - and other kids take keen notice.

Stella Fayman already felt like a visitor from another planet when she came to the United States from the Soviet Union in 1989, and lunchtime was a whole new universe of discomfort. She says, "I would bring Russian food and the kids would make fun of me and call my delicious homemade meal an 'alien sandwich.' Now as an adult, eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches is a treat because of how much I used to envy those American kids with their Gushers and perfect little lunchboxes."

It was the smell that gave away Maria Liberati. Growing up in suburban Philadelphia, Italian food didn't have the same have the same molto delizioso cachet that it does now.

Liberati recalls, "I can remember attempting to find a place in a hidden spot to sit in the lunch room because I usually had an Italian type of panini sandwich dripping with olive oil and oregano or a cold meatball sandwich, and for dessert Italian biscotti and a piece of fruit. Others had the local Tastykakes for dessert. Everybody else would bring in a PB&J or bologna and cheese."

She continued, "Of course my lunches were difficult to hide because you could smell that fragrant tomato sauce or the panini with fresh oregano from a mile away. I would place the lunch bag in the cloak room with my coat and try to cover the brown bag so to mask the fragrance."

Fortunately, the shame faded over time; Liberati is now a noted cookbook author, specializing in Italian recipes.

And again, the smell was a finger pointing straight at Hungarian immigrant Wanda S. Miarecki. In the 1950s, her grandmother would send her to school with a lunch of Limburger cheese sandwiches and a hard boiled egg and possibly sardines or a lard sandwich sprinkled with sugar. Sister Agnes would send Miarecki to sit at the back table in her Catholic school cafeteria and as she notes, "Needless to say, I didn't make any friends."

For humor blogger Alexandra Rosas, the benefits of a traditional health drink were lost in translation. On the Tiki Tiki Blog, she recalls her Colombian grandmother sending her to school in the mid-1960s with a thermos of yerba buena, also known as mate, if she had a stomach ache. Already an outcast, she failed to win any new friends when she answered the class's questions about her beverage with a literal translation, "It's good weed drink!" - which they immediately ran home and told their parents.

Pablo Solomon, now an artist and designer, grew in a multicultural home in Houston, and was bullied every day as a child. Lunch, however, provided a little bit of respite. Though his parents were poor, they got him a Roy Roger's lunch box.

Solomon says, "Because my meals were often foods that the other kids could not recognize, at least they did not beat me up for my lunch. I would have such Mediterranean delicacies as kibba, dolmas, feta cheese, stuffed squash and cabbage - even baklava and huge date cookies. Throw in the occasional tamales, epanadas, sausages, containers of various soups, beans and stews, a variety of homemade breads - and I ate well." It was a comforting little slice of home in the middle of a trying day.

Sandro Gerbini grew up in upstate New York to a father born in Lebanon. From first through third grades lunch was a similarly harrowing experience that turned out to be a cultural bridge to her classmates.

Gerbini recalls, "While the other children brought their white bread, peanut butter and fluff lunches, my sister and I were packed with elaborate Lebanese pita wraps filled with ingredients ranging from hummus, baba ganoush, and Greek yogurt with olive oil, olives, tomatoes and mint. I distinctly remember multiple occasions where I came home to my parents in tears, begging them to pack normal kid lunches for me so that I might be spared the embarrassment of being scrutinized by my typically cruel first and second grade peers."

Luckily, an astute teacher intervened, turning it into a cultural lesson for the class, inviting students to bring in a dish representative of their heritage. Gerbini says, "Most students were either brave, or were trying to appear so before their friends, and ended up trying a bit of everything, sampling cuisine from nearly two dozen different cultures. The event was such a hit that by the next week my formerly odd-ball lunch was suddenly in demand by former skeptics. I began exchanging bits and pieces of my lunch for whatever unusual foods their parents had packed for them and never again was my Lebanese lunch a source of distress for me."

Julia Simens, who has lived on five continents and parlayed her expertise into a book called "Emotional Resilience and the Expat Child" fondly recalls a lesson in cultural pride gleaned from Jesse, a fellow student at her school.

She says, "I peeked over his shoulder to see his packed lunch, a meat stick on fluffy white potatoes. As he ate more and more of his meal we had the conversation that got me to understand the difference between pounded yams and mashed potatoes. I even took a small bite, bland but doable food. When Jess pulled a large piece of meat off and smiled at me while he chewed and chewed. I had to ask him what type of meat he was eating. I never expected to hear 'snail.' When he offered
this BBQ delight I had to decline."

Siemens contined, "I am sure Jesse would take his favorite treat with him ay place on the world that he moved to since it was his favorite and often showed up in his lunch bag."

And Devna Shukla, an Associate Producer for CNN's AC360° digested an important insight in cultural pride in her essay Stall confessions: Life lessons from my lunch box, recounting the tale of finding a kachori in her lunchbox. It was a favorite at home, but in the lunchroom, she was so embarrassed, she ate it in a school bathroom stall. It was the most shameful moment of her life, she says, but she's since grown from it.

Shukla writes, "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."

Do you have any true tales of alienation or acceptance in the school cafeteria? Please share them in the comments below and we'll highlight our favorites in an upcoming post.

soundoff (334 Responses)
  1. Smell the graal

    Unlike the smell of burnt cow smell, or deodorized pig parts glommed together into an unidentifiable mass, these things smell bad?? Strange people. I love real sauerkraut. I will clear a whole field of cabbage at one meal. All of the above sound tasty!

    August 13, 2014 at 7:06 pm |
  2. Floyd Schrodinger

    This article brought back lots of memories, mostly painful. As a child I got hit with a double whammy. I had ethnic food (Polish) sent in my lunch bag AND I was sent to catholic school. My classmates made fun of my food and the nuns encouraged them and told me to stop being weird.

    July 17, 2014 at 7:53 am |
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    July 9, 2014 at 3:05 pm |
  4. William Tate

    Pretty! This has been an extremely wonderful post. Thanks for providing these details.

    June 22, 2014 at 12:07 am |
  5. Tom Wukitsch

    The immigrant-heavy Catholic school in Chicago in the 1940s was just the opposite; kids with PB&J were the weirdos. I'm happy to say that the same is true in our local High School here in Arlington VA where the student body speaks more than 50 different languages.

    February 9, 2014 at 11:00 am |
  6. rlh

    Boy did this bring back memories. I always wished for the bologna, salami or peanut butter jelly sandwich. I am Mexican American and my mother would pack the traditional foods. If it could be packed in a container or wrapped in foil off to school it went with me. I loved my foods but sometimes I just wanted something simple. That was back in the 70's, now I just wished I had learned all the recipes that were used to create the meals that my mother created.

    February 7, 2014 at 10:24 pm |
    • Jerv

      I know you posted a couple months ago, but thank you so much for your comment. My father lives with me and is an excellent cook. I'm going to start collecting his wonderful recipes.

      May 1, 2014 at 8:31 am |
  7. Andrea

    I find this article and the comments a little behind the times. I am 23 and remember all of my lunchrooms having a great variety of foods–mind you I even went to a private school. Honestly kids never cared what food was in front of one another. Personally I hated it when my mom was running late and would set me up with a plain Jane sandwich, because then I would have to smell every one else's amazing home made lunch choices.

    So yeah, this article is behind the times and pretty irrelevant.

    February 6, 2014 at 3:19 pm |
    • Maria

      I wouldn't say this article is irrelevant at all. I'm 21 and immigrated to the states from Finland with my family when I was 4. I still remember having kids look at me weirdly when I pulled out my lunch at school and begging my mom every day to pack me something "normal". Kids definitely do notice. Maybe your view is different because you went to private school.

      July 21, 2014 at 10:49 am |
  8. Guest

    I just ate the school lunches,which were better than anything my mother made
    She would make peanut butter sandwiches with regular butter,spreading it on the bread before the PB
    The older she got the thicker the layer of butter got.Might as well be eating a stick of it
    That isnt the only thing my parents screwed up,but if they had any sense they wouldnt have had kids

    November 30, 2011 at 8:48 am |
  9. am

    Mate and yerba buena are not the same thing.

    November 23, 2011 at 11:11 am |
  10. Robert Imerese

    Those lunches mentioned would now be staples of the "Mediterranean Diet" which is now so popular and proven to be healthier than most "American" diets.

    November 22, 2011 at 2:25 pm |
  11. ChanaBatya

    I was born here, so could have had the usual white-bread-and-something, but I was a fat child and always brought some kind of diet lunch that was looked at very strangely. I wished so much to be allowed to have a sandwich...any sandwich! I also came from a kosher home and wanted nothing more than a ham salad sandwich, so I used to trade my yucky lunch (generally some kind of tuna salad with no mayo in a container-no bread, of course!) for a friend's ham salad. She was very nice about it, but lunch was agony then. Funny, when I first lost weight as an adult, I did it by skipping lunch...there are cultures and there are other things and I guess all kids feel strange and like outsiders until we grow up enough to see that everyone is pretty much the same in this regard and that we do have friends who don't judge. I still feel sorry for all the moms whose homemade lunches were the source of embarrassment...all that love, unenjoyed...

    November 20, 2011 at 8:37 pm |
  12. Bob

    American kids and those who eat meat and dairy products at least 3 times a day, be it eggs, bacon, chicken fish, oil, cheese, pepperoni pizza etc. are already facing the risk of various diseases right from an young age. The best food is south indian food that has less oil. I learned from my neighbor a lot in 3 years all about healthy eating. My neighbor used to consume only 1 a gallon of oil for a family of four per year. Oil is used only for in very very minute quantity for dressing with spices ( also called tadka or wagar in hindi). Pulses are the main sources of protein – lentils like tuvar dhal, urad dhal etc. Yogurt is prepared at home – not bought from the store; oil less cooking with lots of vegetables is the key. All your animal protein and oil/fat is going to do is to destroy your kidneys and other organs. So going to McDonald's and burger king or Olive Garden may seem fun – but it is in reality like signing your own death warrant. Just look at how every other person has either cancer or heart problems or some other odd disease. It starts with the food that we eat and sadly we start doing it the wrong way beginning at a very young age. Folks do not know how to cook, some are lazy to cook, some like to eat out, some love pre-packed foods – they all lead to the same goal of ruined health. So to be healthy, you eat healthy and to do that you cook and control the ingredients that go into your dish.

    November 19, 2011 at 2:59 pm |
    • james

      I use about two gallons of extra virgin olive oil a year for our family of four, we're quite healty

      November 21, 2011 at 9:03 am |
    • mmw

      Well South Indian food isn't necessarily the healthiest food, but the concept of it is. I try to have at least one vegetarian meal per day, I typically use natural fats to cook, rather than adding it. I never add oil to meats. Also, I eat a lot of vegetables. The closer a food is to its natural form, generally the healthier it is.

      I'm never going to feed my kids PB & J on white bread. A turkey sandwich is way healthier (the real turkey, not lunchmeat) and takes the same amount of time. Although this view may change when I actually have said kids.

      November 21, 2011 at 11:43 am |
  13. Mario

    No wander "Americans" are so ill compared with the rest of "US".

    Process food is a cultural indoctrination, one way to promote it is food bullying.

    Can't find simple ingredients to cook your traditional dish, or they are so expensive that one can't afford it.

    Even american traditional home cooking has disappeared.

    November 19, 2011 at 2:52 pm |
  14. Mario

    No wander "Americans" are so ill compared with the rest of "US".

    Process food is a cultural indoctrination, one way to promote it is food bullying.

    Can't find simple ingredients to cook your traditional dish, or they are so expensive that one can't afford it.

    Even american traditional home cooking has disappeared.

    November 19, 2011 at 2:32 pm |
    • Vick

      We are being fed with all sorts of chemicals into our systems under the guise of feel good food and food preservation which I find funny cause people are addicted to the chemicals in the food which makes them eat more of it and end up with all sorts of illnesses now or in the future. If we let a bunch of corporate crooks control our food supply, we have to blame ourselves for letting them do so. What happened to the old fashion market place where chemicals weren't part of the food supply? Have we become this stupid? The ones who make a profit and laugh at us are the drug and chemical companies. Its just like being under the influence of drugs, you can either get out of it or get addicted and end up chronically sick.

      November 19, 2011 at 2:48 pm |
      • Mario

        Is not the lard that kill's you, is the hydrogenated process that is found on almost everything.

        November 19, 2011 at 2:58 pm |
  15. derpp

    Honestly, when I was a kid I never had any of these issues, because I asked the other kids if they wanted to try what I had.

    November 19, 2011 at 5:37 am |
  16. Sandy

    I have sympathy for Sister Agnes' predicament. Have any of you ever smelled limburger cheese? I love the stuff, but it is beyond gross smelling, and it is easy to imagine that it could nauseate kids not used to it. Something's gonna have to give, and keeping your class from vomiting has to be a priority. I used to work in a university in an engineering department, and many of the oriental students brought canned fish for lunch. It caused a lot of problems, because trash was only picked up once per week. Like it or not, smell always matters.

    November 19, 2011 at 3:18 am |
  17. Renee

    When I was in elementary school, I was just jealous of the kids who got lunch from home at all. My mom always said if I didn't want to eat the school lunch, I could make my own bag lunch. That was fine once I was a bit older, but in first grade, my food prep skills were limited, to say the least. Also, since my mom was a dietitian, pre-packaged foods like lunchables certainly weren't in our refrigerator. It probably benefited me in the long-run, but I was definitely jealous of the kids whose parents packed them a lunch every morning at the time.

    November 19, 2011 at 2:08 am |
  18. Hans

    Oh my, oh my how sad it is to discover that we raise our children to be as culturally encapsulated as we are.

    November 19, 2011 at 1:56 am |
  19. Vick

    Recently on tv, I saw news about people not touching fish cause they stink. They stink? What about the fishermen who catch fish? They stink too? What about the ones who jump into the sewers to clean up your filthy clogs? They stink as well? Ok lets make robots catch fish for us and clean the sewers. Next what? Make robots clean our behinds cause we'd stink if we wipe? Whatever you eat stinks one way or the other cause food = dead matter.

    November 19, 2011 at 12:28 am |
  20. Vick

    Eat whatver you want to eat, but make sure you eat healthy. I cant go around making fun of people cause they eat foods different to my diet. Making fun of people or hating them cause they eat a different food is what people with no brains do, which I find weak, pathetic and disgusting. That goes against FREEDOM. I hope the haters understand what it means to be free right? Free to eat whatever tasty food you feel like eating. Talking about stinking, TOILETS stink no matter who uses it.

    November 19, 2011 at 12:13 am |
    • CT

      Why do you care what other people think of you or anyone else then? You are free to be a freak, and others are free to see you as a freak and even to hate you. When everyone starts caring more about themselves and less about what "the others" think, people will be a lot happier.

      November 20, 2011 at 12:24 am |
  21. Mom2000

    And you wonder why kids are attracted to junk food! PBJ sandwiches, or bologna and cheese, everyday for lunch? So bland and unhealthy.
    My daughter is in 6th grade and she never felt uncomfortable bringing unusual foods or even leftovers from the previous day's dinner that she liked so much I have to cook extra to make sure she has enough for the next day.
    She routinely has gyozas (dumplings), edamame (calls them pop-beans), leftover chicken legs or rice or pasta with home made (and very fragant) meat sauce, pork buns, fresh tomatoes, any fruit we have around, and sometime HotPockets or homemade pizza. It is not due to our ethinicity at all, she just likes this kind of food and PBJ is not even an option, she hates it! Yes she also like bologna, but usually by the end of the pack she is done with it for a long time!
    This is not more expensive than the other kids eat, this just food we have in the house any day and leftovers make very good and very cheap lunches.

    November 18, 2011 at 3:55 pm |
  22. jdoe

    "American" food is boring, bland, and tasteless. Thank heavens for the all ethnic food variety you can get here.

    November 18, 2011 at 2:45 pm |
    • BJG

      And once again someone reveals their utter lack of knowledge of American food. Yes, there is bad American food, just as there is bad food of any ethnicity. And there is excellent American food, from hearty stews and soups, to inspired seafood and meat dishes, to wonderful baked goods, just as there is excellent food in all (or at least most) cultures. Take a look into American cuisine and I'm sure you'll find a lot to satisfy you.

      November 18, 2011 at 4:21 pm |
      • renting

        That might be true, but it's very hard to find. I've visited the USA many times and until restaurant review websites became popular and easily accessible, I found it quite hard to find anything that would rise significantly above the level of something like Denny's.

        November 19, 2011 at 4:01 pm |
    • CT

      And what American foods have you tried? If you find it all to be bland and boring then perhaps next time you visit America, you should try something other than the fine cuisine at the QuikStop.

      November 20, 2011 at 12:27 am |
  23. kia

    Great story, I grew up Vegan in the 80's.....all i ever wanted was a happy meal from Mcdonalds

    November 18, 2011 at 2:17 pm |
    • renting

      Parents can be cruel like that.

      November 19, 2011 at 4:02 pm |
  24. abby

    Years ago when I talk in a private school, I set aside a day for the students in my homeroom to bring food from home that represented their family. I brought some food myself. We sat together in our homeroom and shared the food. It helped build bridges between the students as they learned about each other and helped them come to appreciate each other's food and cultures. The students found out they really LIKED the different foods. It was such a hit with the children they wanted to do it more than once a year. They wanted to do it quite regularly.

    November 18, 2011 at 1:48 pm |
  25. Raji

    My daughter never ate her lunch (daily fresh home made Indian food) at school during her elementary school years , she is a senior now, feeling bad about the comments fellow students made. She would come home empty stomach and we need to feed her immediately for the lost meal time. Now the same saga continues for my brother's daughter who comes home empty stomach is really hard for working parents to convince the young kids to be proud of the traditional nutritional food at that age...I keep wondering when/how we will over come this problem.

    November 18, 2011 at 1:40 pm |
    • skyisthelimit

      Why don't you give him/her what she can eat publically proudly if they are so ashamed of her Indian food. My kids take Poori to lunch and never feel bad eating out in public. I liked the last sentence in the article

      "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."

      November 18, 2011 at 3:04 pm |
    • Will S

      Or you could be a good parent, stop forcing your kid to take weird food to school, and pack ham and cheese sandwiches.

      November 18, 2011 at 8:33 pm |
      • Will B

        Eating over-salted pig and congealed cow excretions is extremely weird.

        November 18, 2011 at 11:24 pm |
      • sam

        ethnic food is way better than the the flavorless american crap you guys call food. don't hate, bland-salt-and-pepper-for-spices- white man!

        November 18, 2011 at 11:28 pm |
    • Proud Mom

      Raji ... I am a vegetarian Indian working mom too and pack all kind of foods for my 2nd grader – Indian/ Italian/ Mexian/ American (mostly Indian tough) – none of them bland and .. might I say .. very aromatic ... I hear these cases of cafeteria-picking ... My daughter never asked me to pack anything specific ever so I asked her if this kind of things happen to her as well ... She said YES and then added .. "But I dont care .. I wont stop eating what I like and what is good for me just because other kids dont like it and I dont Ew them when they eat tasteless dead animals.." I was happily shocked to hear her say that ... It all boils down to what values we instill in our kids – I just happened to teach her to be her original self, be proud of who she is and not come under peer pressure ... I didnt know how or when she translate it into her eating habits also ... I feel so lucy to be her mom!! ...

      November 19, 2011 at 12:12 am |
      • Raji

        Yes, I did the same like you packing Italian, Indian, Mexican and other vegetarian food ...but still it was tough for the kid as the other kids were making fun of the food...This is true to my brother too...we are not specific about indian food as long as it is a healthy food...but this is the reality I daughter also was never specific about her food choice except that it should be vegetarian...

        November 19, 2011 at 8:12 am |
  26. thk333

    I am American and I got made fun of in elementary school for having sandwiches made with potato bread (it's yellow). Who knew your lunch could come under such scrutiny.

    November 18, 2011 at 1:08 pm |
  27. me

    At the end of the day kids are going to be as intolerant and ignorant as their parents. I'll be d@@mmed if I send my kid to school with Gushers or Pb& J sandwiches.

    November 18, 2011 at 12:50 pm |
    • Will S

      Your kids will hate you for it.

      November 18, 2011 at 8:33 pm |
      • justaperson

        It's not considered bad anymore, if anything it has become the opposite in most areas. Kids now are a lot different than kids then, conformity is considered boring. My younger sister (12) packs elaborate boxed lunches at night and is seen as one of the "cool kids" because her lunch has rice shaped like cat faces and cute little hot dog octopi. If she's rushed for time she uses a special cutter to make cute shaped mini sandwiches. Most parents don't pack lunches for kids very often these days and its seen as a luxury to have a "different" lunch because that meant your parents had time and effort to spend on you. I watched this change from my childhood, where having a lunchable was a luxury only allowed on field trips, to hers, where I needed to pack a pretty lunch filled with colorful fruit and vegetables for her to be high on the cafeteria pecking order and I eventually taught her how to make them herself as she got older and I moved out.

        July 16, 2014 at 4:57 pm |
  28. CLM2

    Mine was not an ethnic clash, but still devastating. My grandmother would send me to school with a thermos of homemade vegetable soup, half of a slow roasted pork tenderloin sandwich, cup of low fat yogart, an apple, and a small glass bottle of milk. Now I wish I had these things for lunch, but back then I was considered the weird poor kid who could not afford a cool lunch.

    November 18, 2011 at 10:05 am |
    • Rick Springfield

      I went through school with no lunch most of the time. While at Putnam City I would gather pop bottles to get enough coins to buy a candy bar from the sugar shack that was across the street from the school. Then when we left Putnam City I was then forced to just sit in the library or outside on a park bench while other people had lunch. My parents never gave me any lunch money and their income was too high for me to qualify for a free lunch. They expected me to figure it out on my own. I resent them to this day for doing that as I don't think it made me any stronger. It just showed me they were more concerned about their own self interests. This is sorrowful and still exists today in our society.

      November 18, 2011 at 11:42 am |
      • Jorge

        Thank God for modern child cruelty laws, I'm sure you'll be a MUCH worthier father to your children than your parents were to you.

        November 18, 2011 at 12:07 pm |
      • me

        Boohoo you loser

        November 18, 2011 at 12:48 pm |
  29. Liz S.

    Being a military brat, most of us ate the local cuisine wherever we happened to be. When I was in junior high in Okinawa, a classmate's mother had packed some kim chi for her lunch. The home room teacher made her remove it from her locker and place it outside the classroom because of the intense aroma. My classmate wasn't embarassed, she was afraid somebody would steal it! (Nobody did.)

    November 18, 2011 at 9:17 am |
    • BethTX

      This brings up a good point: the smell of a food should not be allowed to be a disruption. Certain food like fish or curry have very strong odors that overwhelm a room and even get caught in hair and clothing. It's not fair for a whole room of people to suffer.

      November 18, 2011 at 9:32 am |
      • Brian

        What about the kids right to eat as his parents wish? If you don't like the smell move, maybe some others do. Maybe you should call Obama and have them pass some government regulation. By the way fish smell makes me ill but I suck it up and deal with it. It is only a smell and people have a right to eat as they see fit.

        November 18, 2011 at 11:57 am |
      • Jorge

        That's funny, us healthy people believe that come lunchtime, we shouldn't have to suffer for the sake of the picky and squeamish.

        November 18, 2011 at 12:11 pm |
      • Bill

        Before everyone starts defending the right to bring smelly foods into schools and offices, try taking a sniff of durian fruit one day. They are banned from the subway system in Singapore – no joke. On arriving in Singapore on my sailboat, I went to the subway to check in. There were signs posted at the entry; "NO DURIANS ALLOWED". I was shocked and saddened that those poor people were so discriminated against. Only later did I learn of, and smell, a ripe durian. They are a cult-like fruit in Southeast Asia, with whole families going out to buy one at the temporary stands set up during the durian season. The smell pervades the whole area. And, eat one and your body and urine smells of it for several days. Amazing.

        November 18, 2011 at 3:07 pm |
  30. chadzilla

    Damn you, Sister Agnes!!!!!

    November 18, 2011 at 7:42 am |
  31. Alice

    In my school, no one packed lunches, and we ate the school fare. My problem was the opposite. I was used to delicious, varied food at home, and in school got the icky hot-dog, sloopy-joe messes I simply hated.

    November 18, 2011 at 6:52 am |
  32. Dwayne

    Breakfast (at home): Idli-Vadai-Sambar
    Lunch (at school): Pasta or Chicken-cheese-spinach quesadillas or pizza or meatloaf or something that local kids are familiar with – avoid the teasing, don't play victim later.
    Dinner (at home): Varan-Bhaat, Poli, Bhaaji.

    It's really quite simple, y'all. Celebrate your culture within the walls of your home, but don't get in-your-face and militant about it.

    November 18, 2011 at 5:52 am |
    • BethTX

      This is really the parents' fault and not the kids'. Most immigrant kids want to fit in and assimilate but some are held back by parents who want the American advantages but don't want to participate in our culture.

      November 18, 2011 at 9:22 am |
      • Brianna

        Really? Eating what you like to eat is 'not assimilating to our culture' and 'shoving culture into other people's faces'?

        I wasn't aware that all new citizens of this country were required to buy peanut butter, wonder bread and hot dogs upon taking the oath. What about regional differences? Should kids from Georgia not bring corn bread and black eyed peas to lunch if they move to the Midwest because they'd be refusing to assimilate? If a family from Minnesota moves to Florida, are they then required to forego casseroles? What about American families who prefer to make their own food from a variety of cultures?

        This whole argument is ridiculous.

        November 18, 2011 at 12:19 pm |
      • Will S

        Food is definitely part of culture. That's why foods are "ethnic". Want your kid to fit in and not be bullied? Want to make his life easier? Don't do things that make him stick out.

        November 18, 2011 at 8:36 pm |
  33. Josh

    my parents are filipino immigrants so i eat pratically rice with every meal. even breakfast. I am mocked my a boy who evidently finds somthing wrong with rice. he would say the i smell like rice when i come to school rice doesnt have an odor, and i always tell him i dont eat breakfast, my mom is strict and she got mad a him because his weigt broke our storage room door, so he insults my mother for that too. My brother is a 7 year old autistic child who has yet to master english so he also insults him. He also insults the phlippines because they were defenceless in ww2. just shows how ignorant some people are.

    November 17, 2011 at 7:33 pm |
    • FormCritic

      I'm sorry, Josh. Maybe the kid who is making fun of you now will learn and grow into a great person. We all make mistakes when we're young. Your best bet is to treat everyone around you with as much kindness as you can. Kindness will win in the long run.

      November 18, 2011 at 12:10 am |
  34. AFWife

    I was born and raised in an East Coast suburb. My lunches came under scrutiny from my class mates because my Mom would pack me cut up veggies - cucumbers, green pepers, and cherry tomatoes. I liked them! Once in a while I'd get a chicken drumstick,which I loved, but other kids pronounced it "icky" and would make sure to leave empty chairs on either side because of my "weird" lunches. I thought their bologna sandwiches were icky, but didn't treat them badly.

    November 17, 2011 at 6:20 pm |
  35. Laura

    I was a middle class white child in the 70's but... my mom liked different foods. Living in Arizona, we'd get egg rolls in our lunches. No one at my school of white, black, hispanic and native american ate egg rolls. Moving to Oregon, we got everything she learned to make in Arizona. No one was eating that way in small town Oregon. Or we'd get sardines and crackers or something else funky. I remember dreaming of having Oreos and/or chips. As an adult, I'm glad she introduced us to such a wide variety of foods.

    November 17, 2011 at 6:16 pm |
  36. S Zapata

    I am an American hispanice citizen, we grew up poor and I remember there were times that we couldn't afford bread or peanut butter or just plain jelly so our mom would fix us tacos (flour tortialla) for lunch. We were embarrassed so we use to hide the taco in the brown paper bag, small bites so know one could see the taco. They would make fun of us for having tacos for lunch.
    Times have changed.

    November 17, 2011 at 6:03 pm |
  37. star

    I remember the scene from My Big Fat Greek Wedding where she brings the moussaka to school and the snotty white girl mockingly calls it "moose caca? You're eating MOOSE caca???" and they all laugh. It reminded me a little of me growing up American in another country-my mother sent peanut butter (which she ordered from the US because you could not even buy it there) and all the kids laughed at me, held their noses, and made rude jokes about where it came from. It goes both ways. Kids are intolerant no matter where you go.

    November 17, 2011 at 5:06 pm |
  38. Kola

    Been there done it.

    November 17, 2011 at 4:32 pm |
  39. SamRon

    Yeah, well try going to lunch in Japan with a P&J sandwich when everyone else has double-decker obento boxes with plastic seaweed cut outs separating the food.

    Ended up just fine.

    This article is dumb, as well as timeles, kids know tasty food when they eat it.

    Plus, last time I checked over 50% of immigrant kids are on income-related "free lunch programs" and eat the taxpayer subsidized "hot lunches" at schools (which cost $1.50 otherwise).

    November 17, 2011 at 3:45 pm |
  40. AM

    It's not just immigrants who experience this. I had all "health" food in my lunches and felt like a freak!

    November 17, 2011 at 1:51 pm |
    • carl ford

      Oh how this subject grabbed me,when I was a first,second and third grade student at a one room school, Mom had a tough time having enough lunches for 4 of us to carry to school,we thought we had to have store bought light bread for sandwiches. Mom was an exllent cook and a super baker and would try to get us to take homemade light bread and t roll buns for our lunches but we fussed against it. Now I can see how stupid I was,what a delight it would be to have a taste of that home made bread once again and TO HELL WITH THE REST OF THE F&&&&% AS*$#@ HOL%$# 'S THOUGHT.

      November 17, 2011 at 4:28 pm |
  41. rh

    Yet more separatism from CNN. All white people are alike. All Immigrants are alike. All black people are alike. All men are alike. All women are alike.

    My mom made pigs feet, stuffed cabbage, eggplant, etc., at home, but she knew enough to let us buy lunch or just throw some bread and butter in our lunch bag. This is all part of parents who aren't in touch with reality, and dangerous too because it's not like it is healthy to have a warm headcheese sandwich or pigs feet.

    WHO GIVES A CRAP! You would be made fun of for other reasons anyway. I like how all of these stories are "I was obviously made fun of/unpopular because of my first-generation/immigrant status". How about you? What were YOU like?

    It's tiresome to think of excuses all the time. There are positive and negative aspects of being an immigrant or first-generation American, and there are positive and negative aspects of being an eighth generation American. Our family is made up of two multi-racial parents, one second-generation American and the other tenth-generation American. It just doesn't bloody matter, an "American pedigree" means nothing if you aren't "in the click".

    November 17, 2011 at 1:18 pm |
  42. itssomuchbetternow

    What? This was an issue when I was in elementary school in 1978. But not now. Now, most kids bring rice and many are now bringing gim (seaweed "paper" used to wrap around rice), all sorts of food, every ethnicity. Lots eat from bento boxes, cool multipayer thermos containers. Everyones lunches smell great! PBJs are the minority. We live in northern virginia, and the school is defintely diverse.

    November 17, 2011 at 12:47 pm |
    • Saphira

      From my experience as an Indian class-outcast, that would only happen if the foreign kid was popular. Example: If she is a popular girl who happens to be Japanese, then all the popular kids will gather around and try her lunch and claim to love it. But it she isn't popular, and is rejected by her peers, then the popular kids will laugh at her and her lunch. That's how brutal 3rd-grade society is, unfortunately.

      November 17, 2011 at 12:57 pm |
    • grace

      I couldn't believe this was an issue either lol I mean I'm sympathetic for those who felt that way but I was the only asian in my elementary school... but I still had friends and no one made fun of me because of the food my mom packed me for lunch... In fact, we usually exchanged some lunch items on occassion.

      November 17, 2011 at 10:16 pm |
  43. Saphira

    I truly understand the alienation experience in the cafeteria. I am also a first-generation child- my parents straight from India. Luckily, all through grade school, they would give me lunch money to buy the school lunch. I loved the Chicken Curry and Puri and Chapathi at home, as well as junk food, burgers, and Capri Sun.

    But I was still alienated because I was the only Indian kid in the entire school (both elementary and middle). The popular white girls laughed at and teased me, the black girls ignored and sometimes fought me. The boys always ignored me unless they were making fun of me.

    So I often sat alone in the cafeteria, eating the school lunch and wondering how I could be proud of being from a country I've never even visited. My parents told stories of India, but it didn't seem like a real place, and everything about America seemed better anyway. I wished plenty of times that I could be Indian with white skin, so at least I would look like my peers. The teasing was never-ending- comments that I lived in a tee-pee, bathed in a river, or was Pocahontas' sister. Only now, after entering college, have I truly enbraced my heritage.

    November 17, 2011 at 12:46 pm |
  44. Carrie at TikiTikiBlog!

    This was really a wonderful collection of great's why we publish the Tiki Tiki Blog - to share the stories of growing up with a foot in two cultures.

    Love everyone's stories.

    November 17, 2011 at 11:20 am |
  45. Diana Smit, co author of 'Expat Teens Talk'

    Let's look at this from an entirely different perspective...that being from the perspective of the American child eating lunch at an International School in a foreign country where the family lives as a result of one or both parents careers. An international school student's packed lunch can be anything from a toasted bagel with cream cheese, to roti prata, sushi, laksa, pasta, samosas, and the list goes on. Being exposed to different foods is a cultural experience, an opportunity to learn about other countries, traditions, local produce and specialities. We as parents and as educators should promote the positive aspects of diversity amongst our children whether living in America or as Americans living abroad. Learning about others through the food they eat could be the starting point of some very interesting cultural discoveries.

    November 17, 2011 at 10:56 am |
    • JB

      I agree – see my comment below

      November 17, 2011 at 11:56 am |
    • Rod C. Venger

      Why? Most Americans don't know enough about America itself. In history class we get the gleamings of the past, but not the gritty details. In geography we again got the highlights but the nuances of America were simply absent. People have this idea that the grass is greener on the otherside of the fence but how would they know if they've never bothered driving just 100 miles from their place of birth, stopped and walked in some out-in-the-middle of nowhere town and just did some exploring? Draw a 50 mile circle around this town, Bryan, Texas, and I guarantee you that the people inside of it know more about multiculturalism than most anyone else. There's small towns out there, every 10 miles as dictated by the railroads, in there's towns that are 100% native, and 100% German, and 100% black, among many others. And where do they all come in to town? Right here. No one's being hassled or firebombed, and no one's making a kumbaya moment out of it either. This is Texas, in America. We live our lives as they are, not as others think they should be.

      November 17, 2011 at 4:30 pm |
  46. G

    dont worry, in the end the immigrant kid will be the smartest in his class, become a doctor and laugh about it while seeing his old classmates work as the cashier at home depot

    November 17, 2011 at 9:55 am |
    • lneller

      You got that right!

      November 18, 2011 at 12:14 pm |
  47. m

    I had to pack peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and milk for my son just to conform. Being vegetarian was even harder.
    When I sent a sandwich with soy meat he was so happy that it looked like other kids' lunch. But I feel bad that I couldn't send him a filling lunch. He is a grown man now and loves experimenting with food and doesn't care what anyone thinks!

    November 17, 2011 at 9:46 am |
  48. Yolie

    Reading this brought back a host of memories... Yup, I was the odd kid too. Who can forget the "good weed drink?" haha. Our version was a different herb (Spearment) but my mom made me chug that thing down... Now I love it and consider myself very fortunate to have been raised between two worlds. Thank you for posting such a refreshing article.

    November 17, 2011 at 9:40 am |
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