When my eldest siblings became teenagers, our lives drastically changed. Being money poor and food rich was harder when we all wanted to participate in sports and school trips. My dad quit farming and got an associates degree in accounting and my mom opened a recycling center where she bought cans and bottles from the area's homeless people. With both parents out of the house for the first time, homemade lunches became a thing of the past. Once we hit public school, we started eating lunch at school. My brother who was going through his growth spurt which would end in a 6'4” frame, was so hungry at lunch that he started eating meat as a way to get more calories. He played sports and was always hungry. He used to drink an entire gallon of milk a day. My sister also started eating meat, yet another way to conform to the mainstream.
We were money poor kids, so we qualified for free lunches from the school, but you had to go in before school to get the tickets. I still remember how ashamed I was to have to go and get those “special” lunch tickets. It amazes me as I look back on how shame about receiving something as elemental as food was already programmed into my brain. While almost everyone agrees that it is a travesty if people don't have enough food to eat in this rich nation of ours, there is still a negative stigma associated with being a food insecure person. This I believe is the biggest barrier for people to apply for SNAP benefits (food stamps), or to reach out to food banks.
I stayed with the vegetarian diet, eating mostly salads and those instant mashed potatoes sans gravy. We always had a good breakfast before going to school with eggs and potatoes, fried brown rice with cheese, malt-o-meal, or bagels with cream cheese, and the lack of protein at school was not a problem for me. Where I suffered as a vegetarian was when staying the night with friends. When we started going to public school, we made friends with people who, not only did not eat like us, but who hardly recognized what we ate as food.
My first non-hippy friend lived up the road from us. We rode the bus together to our first public school. Her family was very poor and ate food that I had only seen at the grocery store. It was at her house where I first tried Kool-Aid, sweet tea, white bread, and processed sugar cereal. The first time I went to her house I was entranced by the microwave, as they were new to the world and we, of course, were not allowed to have one. I was making myself a “grilled cheese” on white wonder bread with individually wrapped generic processed cheese slices in the microwave. It was a disgusting soggy mess. The bread just kind of disintegrated and the cheese oozed everywhere only to congeal into a tasteless orange blob. For breakfast I had Captain Crunch and for dinner while they ate hamburger helper, I had a potato. By the time I went home I felt sick, and was dying for some protein.
It was worse when friends came to our house. They had never eaten lentils with rice, or tofu sandwiches. Sometimes we ate a whole mess of vegetables for dinner, and most of our new friends didn't like vegetables. They didn't like coming to our house because of the food so we usually went to their homes. One mom was so perplexed about what to feed me she made me my own pot of boiled cabbage. We ate cabbage at my house, but usually it was raw in a salad. Occasionally my mom made creamed cabbage, but boiled cabbage with nothing on it was awful! I was trained to never waste food, so I diligently ate it, but was careful never to be at their house for dinner again! The father of another friend of mine thought he was doing me a kindness by getting meat flavored veggie burgers, not realizing that I didn't miss meat, I had never had it. He was mystified that I didn't like the flavor!