Island in the City: After the Lunch Box

December 6, 2016

I had a Mighty Morphin Power Rangers lunch box once, but Mom worked too early in the morning for her to really prepare a hearty lunch for me to take to school. At least that's what I thought. I didn't realize that she was really only buying stuff at the store because she saw how much I wanted to bring certain foods. I was always the kid with the deluxe package of Lunchables, the one with the Caprisun and chocolate packed right in. On days I didn't bring Lunchables, I might have brought a ham & cheese sandwich with a King Size Twix. I'd have the Oreos and the Reese's and the Whoppers. Packing that kind of junk food made it seem like we had way more money than we actually did. I just wanted to be one of the cooler kids at lunch time, until mom finally told me that I'd have to eat the cafeteria food like everybody else, that we'd have to cut back on spending, that I'd have to wait in line and use the half washed trays like everybody else, have to eat with the stained forks and spoons and chance whatever was in the meatloaf.




Now, sometimes when I sit at work, I remember how my school cafeterias felt; how it was less about actually eating and more about reaffirming social status: the amount of money you spent on your food and how you behaved eating it all. It seems that a major part of going to school was proving to everyone how much better or richer you were, even inside of a fuckin cafeteria! Living on my own now though, I'm understanding that the workplace break-room doesn't necessarily follow that silly hierarchy. Adults can be pretty petty too, but from my experience, a lot of folks in a break-room often talk about how to save a little bit of money, most especially when it comes to the things we eat. 


About 5 months before I left Guam, I started to get serious with learning how to cook. My pa would spend a few nights out of the week to teach me how to cook different Pinoy foods and in the summer, my best friend would give me pointers on how to make Chamoru foods. I didn't want to leave home without learning how to cook. Anyone who moves out of their parents' house without knowing how to cook for themselves is either really dumb or really rich. Who can afford to buy every meal every day? Definitely not me. This whole cooking for myself thing is fairly new, but I'm loving it. I'm definitely no longer that kid who wanted to impress everybody at lunch with how much cash he blew on food. I'm that guy who just wants to save some money and maybe tell a little story about the dish I brought from home. 


I write this now and remember a poem of mine that was published in Blackmail Press. It's a piece that reminds me not to take my ability to stay fed for granted:




I learned how to speak Tagalog 

joking with my parents at the dinner table. 

I learned to eat with my hands 

and laugh with my belly,

but on some nights 

it was less of a comedy

and more of a lecture. 


My mom would flash a starving town in her eyes 

and tell me, 

“Kainin mo yan Jay!” 


Before we had the comfort

of ceramic tiles and glass tables 

my parents 

ate off dusty cardboard and flimsy wood. 


Before our house had a fridge

that hummed like a supermarket

my parents 

had songs to plant in rice fields. 


Before my parents

found salvation inside a steel angel 

and built a heaven on Guam, 

they burned in the hells of a third world. 


So at dinner, 

when I complained about the food on my plate

my parents would remind me 




doesn’t always taste the way I want


but it feeds me just the same


and I should show thanks 


by swallowing my food. 









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