School Day Lunches, and the Italian Brown Bag


As kids resume school, we take a look back at class -- before bus rides, high tops and cafeteria lunches.

The following article was written by Tony Traficante, a Contributing Editor for ISDA

Our usual Italian breakfast was nothing fancy, but it was filling. It consisted of a good slice or two of thick, homemade Italian bread (didn’t matter if it was freshly baked), buried in a bowl filled with “caffe e latte.” Not many families had or could afford cereal on the morning menu.

After breakfast, it was off to school. Most of the kids “hoofed” it; no yellow buses waiting to shuttle them. The primary means of transportation were ugly looking “clod hopper” shoes, no such things as silver-black, high-top Adidas sneakers.

A lot of us Italian kids packed lunches, wrapped in thick wax paper, stashed in brown bags. Buying lunch at the school cafeteria was out of the question, and subsidized lunch and milk programs had yet to be invented as part of the school curriculum. It wasn’t difficult to tell what was in those brown bags, particularly on the days when they had thick “sangwiches” made of fried eggs and peppers, or fried baloney and “cicoria” greens.

Some of the nosey “merican” kids liked to ask “What ya got in da bag?” As if they couldn’t tell from the tell-tale grease spots. (No way to use those bags as book covers)! Embarrassed I wasn’t, since I knew- – and they knew – -it was always something good!

Of course, you could never tell what they had, in their fancy lunch boxes — ya know, the same students who also had those high-falutin pencil boxes. Can you imagine some even had the nerve to suggest swapping sandwiches?

There was this one day I was called to the Principal’s office. Uh-oh, now what? Was it that spit ball incident, or did Sally rat on me when she caught her pigtail on my desk top? No! It had to do with my locker. As the Principal directed me down the hall to my locker, the janitor who was with him, carried a big plastic sack and small shovel and broom. I don’t know what they thought I had in the locker.

As we got closer, you could tell it was spewing forth with a distinctive fragrance. I thought it gave off a rather epicurean bouquetbut the Principal reasoned otherwise and demanded: “OPEN IT!”

For crying out loud, It’s just my lunch — a ‘panini’ made with extra sharp provolone!”

Some people have no appreciation for good Italian food!

Join Sunday Supper, OrderISDA’s weekly e-newsletter, for the latest serving of all things Italian. 

Make the pledge and become a member of Italian Sons of Daughters of America today!

Share your favorite recipe, and we may feature it on our website.

Join the conversation, and share recipes, travel tips and stories.