If you're a parent with a child under the age of 12, chances
are he or she won't eat anything resembling the sliced bread staple you grew up
with: tuna, lettuce and tomato; bologna and cheese; turkey; roast beef;
PB&J. The grape jelly seeped through the white bread, but you still ate it
up greedily. Ditto for the tuna. Bologna wasn't your favorite, but you were
starving, and no one wanted to trade it for a Slim Jim.
Today the lunch you send off to school with your child sits
in stark contrast to those you once toted. Instead of a sandwich our
generation's offspring get fruit salad, tabouli, hummus, pasta salad, Greek
salad, Caesar (dressing on the side!). There are soups and yogurt parfaits in
stainless, insulated containers and nestled alongside reuseable ice packs.
Sometimes there are healthy, flax-filled cereal bars, or sushi hand rolls. And
yes, you've been known to cook a pot of mac-n-cheese-with-broccoli and pack it
up, all before 6:30 a.m.
There's a simplicity to the sandwich that has been
sacrificed on the altar of spoiled taste buds. Yes, spoiled—my children
included. A research scientist I interviewed once at Yale's Rudd School of Food
Policy and Obesity told me that this is the first time in history (i.e., ever) that children have been so picky,
that people under age 7 get separate meals made, just for them.
My husband tells my children: "It's preposterous that you won't eat sandwiches." To which they stare
back blankly, as if to say, "What's the big deal about a sandwich?" I guess it's not necessarily that sandwiches are healthier,
or even more filling. Then why is it so annoying to me (and other parents I
know) when kids won't eat them?
Mostly convenience. Sandwiches are highly portable and easy
to make. Slap those slices of bread on a cutting board, lay down your filling,
cut it in half and boom—lunch. If you have more than one child, its
construction process perfectly suits an assembly line. Compared to a
cucumber hand roll or salad, that's pretty efficient. Of course selecting a filling for your sandwich has become more complicated: Sliced
turkey or ham? Watch out for chemicals. Tuna? Too much mercury. Peanut butter
and jelly? Banned from school due to an allergy.
"Just make sandwiches for the kids anyway," my husband said. Until
he started collecting and opening the lunch boxes at the end of the day.
We've taken so much of the treat-i-ness out of sandwiches (including the ultimate mouth-watering accompaniment, potato chips), that there's no incentive for a 6-year-old to consume them.
"You didn't even touch it!" I hear him cry from the kitchen,
and I sit back smugly. "See?" I think, watching him wave around the sweaty,
once-delicious-looking-but-now-inedible offering. The exercise seems
infinitely futile, too. Like Sisyphus, send off a sandwich to school each day,
receive it intact but inedible six hours later, throw it in the trash and repeat
the whole process the next day. There's got to be more to life.
Maybe sandwiches just tasted better back in the day—made
with gooey white bread, sweetened peanut butter and sugary jelly (no bits!),
with processed meat or mayo-laden tuna. We've taken so much of the treat-i-ness out of sandwiches (including the ultimate mouth-watering accompaniment, potato
chips), that there's no incentive for a 6-year-old to consume them. And while some of us were once forced to "finish your milk," no one's making kids eat
lunch before heading off to the play structure.
Or maybe we should just blame it all on the demise of white
bread. Yes, it's nutrient-free—one recent book even described eating white
flour as "tantamount to smoking cigarettes"—but it made lunch so damn good. Kids today may have no objection to
the concept of a sandwich, just to the fact that you can't taste anything on
the inside when you're so busy fighting your way through half an inch of seeds
Whether it's the dense bread, the mercury-laden tuna, the
nitrate-littered deli meat, or the peanut allergies that
puts the final nail in the coffin, we must prepare ourselves for the lunchbox
sandwich becoming obsolete. I can't remember the last time I ate white sandwich bread, but if I'd known it would be my last, I would have shed a tear.