For this week’s column, I wrote about the food distribution center in our bathroom. Our kitchen is under renovation.
As our kitchen remains out of commission thanks to a summerlong renovation project, a satellite food distribution center has started to emerge in the master bath upstairs. A mini-fridge stands next to a toaster, an espresso machine and a rack of clothing baskets filled with bags, boxes and bars of food-like products. Our food now comes in single-serving pouches and snack-size travel packs. I’m sure Michael Pollan would de-friend someone on Facebook if he knew they ate like this.
That said, it’s never been easier to pack my kids’ lunches. I stand in front of the food distribution center in my bathrobe, clutching coffee, and scream across the hall, “What do you guys want for lunch?”
They scream back: “Cheese sticks!” “A Clif Bar!” “The salad kit!”
I dump shiny, foil- or film-wrapped items into their lunchboxes, along with an apple or plum as a token recognition of the natural world. This feels less like packing lunch than it does like assembling an Easter basket or putting together a gift bag for a charity event.
The kids are happy. They enjoy the tautly wrapped plastic bowls of spinach with mandarin orange segments, pecans, goat cheese and single-serve packets of “Asian” ginger dressing. They thrill to the clamshell kit of hummus and pretzel sticks. After a mere five minutes of unwrapping, they can claim victory by dipping the pretzels in the hummus.
They love nothing more than the cobb salad kits fashioned of a half-dozen tiny compartments holding crumbled bacon, egg, chicken, tomato and diced whatnot over a bowl of greens. It even comes with a fork.
This is getting expensive.
But there’s no waste! This is nothing like those old days when we had a full-size refrigerator with a semi-salvageable bag of spinach shoved into a bottom bin. How well I remember picking through the spinach, cutting up an orange, trying to find a plastic container to put the salad in, and then trying to find a lid. I think our kitchen used to get nocturnal visits from a creature that feasted on plastic food storage container lids.
And, boy, do the kids love the packaging. There are so many things to tear, unsnap and unfold in their lunches that it’s like they’re eating Transformers.
Plus, there’s this. I can shop for lunch at CVS! There are all kinds of $2.99 lunch packages for harried, kitchenless parents such as us. But I kind of draw the line at shelf-stable entrees that contain meat because that just freaks me out. I just don’t think something called “creamy chicken alfredo” should be stocked one shelf over from the depilatory cream.
Nor does all of this stuff appeal. Sometimes I stand by the food distribution center and scream for my kids to order their lunches.
“What do we have?” they call back.
I rummage. “Tuna salad kit. You mix all the stuff together in a plastic tray and eat it with crackers.”
“It’ll be fun.”
“There’s a mint in there with it, ” I plead, appealing to their candy jones.
I rummage some more and find dehydrated noodles — not the kind that absorb water under a balky paper lid, but the kind that must be rehydrated in a perforated basket, drained and mixed with a package of yet another “Asian” sauce.
At this point we must negotiate. They come to the bathroom and do their own rummaging. What do we have? Individually wrapped tiles of Cracker Barrel cheese. Honey Nut Cheerios Cereal and Milk bars. A supermarket deli sandwich that grows less appealing with each day — its turkey and cheese pressed and distorted against the plastic film, like a person’s cheek against a windowpane.
This is depressing. We need a real kitchen — one filled with suspect spinach, leftover hunks of roasted turkey breast, carrots that want only peeling, and some sort of connection to the food source.