Mocking School Lunch in the Movies
November 18, 2009 9:09 AM   Subscribe

When was the first time "school lunch" was ridiculed in a movie (most likely a teen flick) or a TV show? We're currently producing a documentary on school lunch, and we know that there was a cultural shift in how school lunch was perceived (great social achievement to grotesque laughingstock). If you can help us identify the first instance of this shift in popular culture, we'll give you a film credit.
posted by jacknose to Media & Arts (17 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Not sure about tv or movies, but within the popular culture parameters, you might want to take a good look at Archie comics (Miss Beazley!) and Mad magazine.
posted by fish tick at 9:18 AM on November 18, 2009

'Oh! nonsense,' rejoined Mrs Squeers. 'If the young man comes to be
a teacher here, let him understand, at once, that we don't want any
foolery about the boys. They have the brimstone and treacle, partly
because if they hadn't something or other in the way of medicine they'd
be always ailing and giving a world of trouble, and partly because it
spoils their appetites and comes cheaper than breakfast and dinner. So,
it does them good and us good at the same time, and that's fair enough
I'm sure.'

- "Nicholas Nicholby" (1838-9) by Charles Dickens.
posted by grumblebee at 9:41 AM on November 18, 2009

Sorry, that's not a movie (thought it's been adapted many times), but I thought it might be useful.
posted by grumblebee at 9:42 AM on November 18, 2009

Good ol' Miss Beazley. Thanks. We might reference her (we'll find out when she was first introduced). Do you have a particular issue of Mad in mind? Re: Dickens, it's interesting, but we're sticking to school lunch in the US. But thanks.
posted by jacknose at 9:57 AM on November 18, 2009

I have no good references for you, but, you might look around the Reagan era. I remember hearing a lot about the (possibly apocryphal) rules being stretched to allow ketchup as a vegetable.

This might be later in the century than you are hoping, though.

Another possibility - you do a loosey goosey search in IMDB keywords. There are some ridiculously specific ones in there. ("floating-eyeball")
posted by BleachBypass at 10:46 AM on November 18, 2009

Yeah, our hunch is that started in the 80s. We'll try some loosey goosey searches.
posted by jacknose at 10:52 AM on November 18, 2009

I can't give you a real cite but we certainly made fun of the school lunch when I was a kid in the 1970s. You know, whinnying at the salisbury steak and saying "And they're off!"
posted by interplanetjanet at 11:09 AM on November 18, 2009

I'm not sure if it's the first thing, but you probably can't make that movie without mentioning Hot Lunch
posted by itsonreserve at 11:11 AM on November 18, 2009

Yeah, our hunch is that started in the 80s.

Absolutely not. It was an old saw when I was a kid (I was born in 1964).

In the late-seventies novel The Cheerleader, by Ruth Doan McDougall, which is about New Hampshire teenagers in the 1950s, there's at least one scene where the kids are joking about the horrible school lunch, talking about "mystery meat" and so on.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:14 AM on November 18, 2009

I suddenly remembered an old Bill Cosby routine from the 1960s about being served "lukewarm curdly milk" in school. I think its on the album "Why is There Air?" We listened to that over and over when I was kid
posted by interplanetjanet at 11:21 AM on November 18, 2009

Yeah, our hunch is that started in the 80s.

Sorry for the confusion. I don't mean when kids started to complain about school lunch, but when it started to make appearances in popular culture. But maybe the 70s (or 50s) complaining suggests that this kind mocking made an earlier appearance in popular culture.
posted by jacknose at 11:21 AM on November 18, 2009

itsonreserve, yes, a great scene.
posted by jacknose at 11:23 AM on November 18, 2009

There's a couple of school-lunch-mocking scenes in Better Off Dead and I think at least one in Rock and Roll High School. You'll probably find some in shows like James at 15 and 1970s Afterschool Specials as well.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:24 AM on November 18, 2009

Oh, and there was an episode of the radio version of "Our Miss Brooks" about a cafeteria boycott (late '40s or early '50s)--it's possible the same theme appeared in the television version as well.

And then there's "The Patty Duke Show" and "Leave it to Beaver", though I seem to recall Wally and the Beav bringing their lunches in paper sacks.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:28 AM on November 18, 2009

Ooh, don't forget "Square Pegs"! School lunch mockery was a running gag on that show.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:33 AM on November 18, 2009

I remember hearing a lot about the (possibly apocryphal) rules being stretched to allow ketchup as a vegetable.

Wikipedia: "The Ketchup as a vegetable. controversy or ketchupgate refers to a proposed United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food and Drug Administration directive, early in the administration of Ronald Reagan, that would have reclassified ketchup and pickle relish from condiments to a vegetable, allowing public schools to cut out a serving of cooked or fresh vegetable from hot lunch program child-nutrition requirements."

Also from Wikipedia: "Free lunch" and "There ain't no such thing as a free lunch." It seems that negative opinions about "free lunch" came before negative opinions regarding (free or subsidised) school lunch. If it's free, how good can it be?

From the movie "Fame" (1980): "Hot Lunch Jam":

"If it's yellow, then it's jello
If it's blue it could be stew"
posted by iviken at 1:30 PM on November 18, 2009

FOOD FIGHT!!! (1978)
posted by macadamiaranch at 1:56 PM on November 18, 2009

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