On Wednesdays, we were served McDonald’s cheeseburgers. Wednesday was probably my favorite day in elementary school (except for maybe the last day of school). I always wondered how many cheeseburgers the school had to order to feed a whole school. I also wondered if McDonald’s delivered or if one of the lunch ladies had to go buy hundreds of cheeseburgers.
On Fridays, we got chocolate milk. I didn’t like regular milk, mostly because I refused to drink it unless it was ice cold. Adding chocolate always seemed to fix that problem.
On some days, we got ice cream. Remember those small cups with the swirled ice cream? There was plain vanilla, vanilla with chocolate, and vanilla with strawberry.
Then there were other good days when we ate square-shaped cheese pizza. I want to say that sometimes we did get slices with tiny, cut up pieces of pepperoni–think bacon bits–but I could be making it up.
Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches were loaded with such big scoops of runny, creamy peanut butter and jelly that it was almost impossible to eat like an actual sandwich.
The spaghetti was sprinkled with ground beef. It wasn’t until years later that I realized how amazing pasta could actually be.
Grilled cheese sandwiches were never enough to fill me up. I only ate the bread though. It was so buttery and yummy. Again, it wasn’t until years later that I discovered the real deliciousness of cheese.
Then I signed up for a summer program with a school in Palo Alto. I had never heard of this school before, but because my mom was always eager to keep us busy during the summer, I was allowed to go.
The Palo Alto lunches were different.
First of all, the cafeteria was nicer. The tables looked newer and cleaner. The East Palo Alto cafeteria was big and except for the fold-out bench-like tables, it was empty. The Palo Alto cafeteria was…decorated. It resembled a restaurant. Wednesdays did not equal McDonald’s cheeseburgers. Instead, there was a buffet every single day. Also, we chose what we wanted to eat. The meal wasn’t pre-assembled for us. We grabbed our tray, plate, knife, and fork then moved along to the salad section. We could build our own salads. They always had jell-o in every color and lots of fresh fruit. Towards the end of the glorious assortment of food, we were served our main course.
Spaghetti day consisted of hot, steamy pasta. The lunch lady served me the pasta without sauce. The next lady asked if I wanted meat (it had big chunks of meat) or meatless (it had chunks of tomato) sauce to go on top. My jaw almost dropped. But, it wasn’t over yet. I also got a piece of garlic bread!
Pizza was not square-shaped or occasionally sprinkled with (imaginary?) bits of pepperoni. They had real pizza. As in triangle-shaped pizza with, again, our choice of either cheese or big, round pieces of pepperoni.
Chocolate milk Friday did not exist. There was no obligation to drink regular milk either. I could have water or lemonade.
I don’t know if the chocolate chip cookies were freshly baked or store-bought, but either way, they were delicious.
At snack time–yes, snack time, everyday–we got pieces of fruit or granola bars. The only time we got snacks in East Palo Alto was during standardized testing days.
This school in Palo Alto, just minutes away from my own, was both a blessing and a curse. It made me realize the huge differences between our communities. I enjoyed my time there. I loved it there, but it gave me a glimpse at the type of world that existed outside of my own. A world that was abundant in good food and opportunity. A world that I clearly wasn’t a part of.