A Memoriam to the Fiestata….
With three children now fully enrolled in the public school system and the new school year underway, lunch is a regular topic of conversation in our household.
When to buy, when to bring, what to buy, what to bring and all the various changes made to school menu offerings over the course of the last few years, have ignited conversations in our household regarding everything from politics to variations in socioeconomic status, to public health.
My step-daughter….who probably nets a total of five calories each day at lunch….never buys at school because the food “looks funny and smells weird.”
My step-son, a carbivore….who prefers food that is monochrome and devoid of anything that could possible be associated with a vegetable or fruit….used to buy his lunch on nacho or french toast stick day, but since the nacho’s now include black beans and real cheese and the french toast sticks are whole wheat….he’s become a devout brown bagger.
And my three-year-old pre-schooler told me that the popcorn chicken he bought at school last week was “ficy” (spicy) and that he didn’t like the raisins….even when I told him he should eat them because they are just like candy….nature’s candy….he continued to insist they were “yucky” and he preferred to stick with PB&J….little does he know it’s SSB (Sunflower Seed Butter) & J because we are a peanut, almond….and whatever other kinds of nuts there are….free school district.
Overall, I would obviously not describe my kids as adventurous eaters….but we aren’t a family that lives off whatever isn’t freezer burnt or served in a paper bag through a drive-thru window either. We have kid friendly, home cooked, healthy meals most every night and we expect the kids to eat what’s served.
I’m fairly certain I’ve never purchased a loaf of Wonder Bread and fruits and/or vegetables are on the menu in some form or fashion….including deceptively….at every meal. So, I’ve come to the conclusion that the real problem with what they are being served in school these days….is that it’s too close to the food they are being served at home.
School lunches used to include deep fried chicken patties served on white hamburger buns with a mound of squishy tater tots. Squares of cheesy pizza made with small chunks of a meat presumed to be pepperoni and with crusts made from white flour.
There was fruit cocktail and mandarin oranges served in sugary syrups and a variety of ice cream bars, Fruit Roll-Up’s and the full line of Little Debbie snack cakes for desert.
Bottled water was a thing of the future, but cartons of creamy whole milk in plain, chocolate and sugar coma inducing strawberry….along with a variety of juice boxes in every flavor….were available to wash it all down.
The meals weren’t gourmet, pretentious or pretty. They were preservative packed, processed and chock full of mysterious ingredients. They were high in everything crappy and low in everything healthy, but damn it if they weren’t pleasing to the pallet of many an elementary schooler.
Tell me you didn’t know the pleasures of carefully destructing a Little Debbie Nutty Bar…in order to scrape the peanut butter from each individual wafer layer with your teeth….and I will say to you….I am very sorry for your loss.
For me and I imagine a lot of kids, school lunches were one of the only times in my childhood that I had a modicum of control over my diet. There was no parental authority leaning over my plastic tray replacing my soggy french fries with some equally soggy peas. Between the hours of approximately 12:00pm and 12:30pm from September to June, I had the power of choice and no intention of choosing wisely….the world was my Swiss Roll and I was ready to explore.
But now that Carotini, (whatever the hell that is), whole grains and fresh fruit that hasn’t been marinating for years in high fructose corn syrup is on the menu, the power struggle has shifted in the favor of responsible adults and I have to say….however traitor-like it may be….I’m all in.
I can appreciate the broader rationale for healthier school lunches these days. For some children, the meal they have at school, may be the best meal they have all day. For other children struggling with juvenile diabetes or obesity, having a healthier meal choice available….along with a focus on general health and wellness….is an important message to send.
But….there is still a part of me that is saddened by the fact that my children will never know the Fiestata. An octagon shaped, little slice of pizza-like heaven with a thin crust topped with tomato paste? and tiny pieces of hamburger? and yellow cheese? that kind of all melted/congealed/slightly burned together to form a solid mass of sheer, kind of crispy, kind of mushy, goodness.
Had my subsidized school lunch program allowed it, I would have stock piled my ration all week and blown it all on Fiestata day.
Are you going to eat that? Are you going to eat the whole thing? What!? How the fuck do you not like Fiestata’s!? Could typically be heard coming from my mouth as I scanned the cafeteria like a little vulture hoping to catch a fellow lunch goer before he or she tossed a still glistening Fiestata mound into the trash.
In fact, I loved them so much I once asked the lunch lady for the recipe….and she pointed to a long, white, nondescript box with plain black lettering that said “Fiestata” and then I just assumed they had been made in Mexico because they were far too exotic to be American fare.
I have kept a casual eye on the school menu this year for any signs that the Fiestata might make a return….WG (whole grain) Fiestata with organic white cheddar and GF (grass fed) hamburger with a side of roasted broccoli and a locally grown apple….is probably what the menu would say these days and I hope to never see it that way. I prefer to remember it as it was….heart burn inducing, probably ADD causing, artery clogging, early on-set heart disease producing, special little octagonal round of awesome.
Like the Trapper Keeper and Scrunchies and pegged pant-legs with slouchy socks and the spiral perm, I like to think of the Fiestata as an antique….a blissful and beloved relic of childhood.