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I was, at the time I started this blog, part of a class at Kalamazoo College on food and travel writing. So if you like food, or travel, or participating in interesting discussions having to do with both or either of those things, you are in the right place. Also, you should check out my classmates' blogs because they're awesome.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Bosco Breadstick Incident

            The driving force behind the Bosco Breadstick Incident really had its roots in elementary school, when my brother and I would beg my mother for hot lunch because all the cool kids got hot lunch. Like it was for Bit, lunches at my elementary school were a status symbol. Getting hot lunch meant your parents had enough money to buy you lunch all year instead of sending one from home. They never had Bosco breadsticks (Boscos, for short) in elementary school, so hot lunch there—at least for me—was never a big deal. It was mostly just a day when my brother and I got something that wasn’t from home for lunch (I was particularly fond of the mac and cheese). When I got to middle school, however, things changed.
            I think most people can identify with the floundering that comes with trying to find one’s social niche after arriving at a new school. It was especially hard for me, since my best friend at the time was going to a different school and I really didn’t have any other friends than her. So I watched, I stayed quiet, and I got good grades. People mostly left me alone because they didn’t know what to do with me. (When I asked the teachers why everyone left me alone, they said it was because I was more “mature” than a lot of the other people in my grade were. I didn’t know what that meant at the time.) I eventually made a few friends, but we were never as close as I was with my best friend. 
Sixth grade was the time for experiments. I hadn’t yet learned that the cafeteria was the place of social maneuvering and that was not anything I wanted to join in, so I would find a spot with some of my vague friends and watch the posturing of the popular people like something narrated by David Attenborough. The popular kids took the row of tables along the wall across from the windows, and the closer to the center two tables you were, the higher your status. If you sat at one of the popular kid tables before the popular kids got there, you would get dirty looks when they did finally show up, and then they would proceed to sit around you and pretend you didn’t exist. (I know, I tried it once.)  Sixth grade was also the year I figured out that I was weird because my mom still packed my lunch. All the cool kids either packed their own lunches full of junk food and brought them in brown paper bags, or got hot lunch. Hot lunch consisting of Boscos and a drink.
Bosco breadsticks were the blessed food in the cafeteria. Pizza was acceptable, as were the “sub-sandwiches” that were a healthier option if you didn't feel like going for all-out junk food, but if you were really cool, you got Boscos. They came in a white paper bag printed with a boy with a red hat proudly presenting a breadstick with a red label that said "CHEESE" behind him and "BOSCO STICKS" under his feet. They were baked, but they were still full of grease and they had mozzarella cheese—or at least, the GFS equivalent of mozzarella cheese—in the center. If you got to lunch right away, the breadsticks were soft and chewy and sprinkled with fake parmesan cheese. If you go to lunch late, however, chances were that they were either gone, or over-baked into hard, brown, inedible shells with cheese that had collected in the bottom of the hollow hole running down the middle of them. The thing was, Boscos were the prized possession of those who ruled the social hierarchy. The popular kids got first pick, because the teachers let them out first, so they got to the cafeteria first. If you happened to somehow beat the popular kids to the line, you deferred to the rulers and let them go ahead of you, because that was just what you did.
I don’t know exactly when, but somewhere during sixth grade I became enamored with Boscos. My mother was—and still is—big on nutrition, so I knew at the time that most of the cafeteria food was terrible for me, but something about the combination of soft dough filled with melted cheese and the fact that they were the unofficial property of the popular kids and thus out of my reach called to me. In my head, they taunted me. Come eat us and you can be cool too, they said.  This is what McKenna’s comment in class helped me to realize: wanting them had nothing to do with the nutrition facts or the fact that it wasn't my mom's cooking. It was about fitting in, and like Bit, I desperately wanted to fit in.
            When I got to seventh grade, though, I had figured out that I was never going to be part of the highest social circles of my school, so I gave up. Generally when one does not wish to find a place within the established tiers of social acceptance, one has two options: rebellion or exile. I thought about rebelling, showing those popular kids just what I thought of their unspoken rules, but the knowledge that with rebellion came social suicide terrified me. Already my friends were few and far between, and I knew open rebellion would scatter what few I had like dandelion seeds on the wind. So I chose exile instead. First I hid in my science teacher’s classroom, even though it stank like parrot poop (he had an African Gray parrot named Oscar) and snakes. My science teacher was fond of animals. He even had a little fake pond in his room and kept live turtles and fish in it. Anyway, finally I decided that I really didn’t want to eat around the stink of parrot poop, so I started eating in the cafeteria again. This was a mistake. By seventh grade I knew that I didn’t like large crowds of people in one place, and that is what the cafeteria was. Every single person in my grade crammed into a space that was too small for our bodies and far too small for some peoples’ egos. I forced myself to eat there for a while, but then, as I said in my last post, I discovered The Library. The Library became my safe place. Shortly after I began seventh grade I split with the friend who was going to a different school after a sleepover that didn’t go well. That left me with exactly no friends that I felt close enough to talk to about anything, so I turned to writing. I started keeping a journal, and the library was where I wrote, sitting in the corner between the advanced fiction and the kiddie fiction. This was how I survived the rest of seventh grade. Yes, it was lonely, but I had discovered that it was better to be alone by myself than alone in a crowd.
           By eighth grade, one’s social status at my school was a cemented fact. However, as I mentioned before in my other post, I didn’t fit in anywhere. Thus: the library. Unfortunately, the library had been opened to the rest of the students during lunch periods, and was thus becoming a bit too full and noisy for me. I hid in my corner, but I could hear other people talking all the time—and not in the kind of voices that one usually uses in a library—plus they would walk past me, pretending again that I didn’t exist. Then in the middle of eighth grade, I got an offer from my algebra teacher that was something similar to receiving a teacher-approved secret hideout. She had a back room, and she had placed in it several comfy chairs, a couch, a rug, a large center coffee table, and a lamp. There was also an overhead fluorescent light, but I never turned it on. One day I stayed late after class talking with her, and somewhere in the course of our conversation I mentioned the fact that I hated eating in the cafeteria and the library was becoming overrun. Then she offered me the use of her back room. She called it “The Chat Room,” but not much chatting ever went on there. I would sit in one of the chairs and eat my lunch, and then I would read. Or write. Or do homework, depending on my mood. I lived pretty much inside my own head. I shared the chat room with a few of my vague friends, but they mostly talked to each other while I did something else that didn’t require social interaction. It was the best thing that happened all year, because I found a place where no one expected anything of me. I was free.
            Bosco breadsticks fit into this because the first time I ever had them was in my algebra teacher’s back room. My mom had finally relented and let my brother and I get hot lunch whenever we wanted, mostly to indulge us and not because she wanted us to eat that crap. She was letting us discover for ourselves just how disgusting it was. Somehow, one day I managed to get in and out of the cafeteria before the middle school royalty and all their loyal followers descended on the tables in hordes. I walked down the hall toward my math teacher's room, clutching a bag of the prized Boscos in one hand and holding a box of chocolate milk in the other. It felt wonderful; exhilarating, frightening, and a little bit victorious. I, a social nobody, had made off with a bag of Bosco breadsticks. I felt like I was the Robin Hood of the middle school, except I wasn’t going to be sharing these with the metaphorical poor of middle school society.
            I got back to my teacher’s back room and I put my prize on the coffee table next to the chocolate milk as I sat in my favorite chair. I remember I just stared at the bag for a good two minutes before I could bring myself to touch them. Then I ate them, and I was not arrested, nor did lightning strike me dead. I think it was that day that I realized I didn’t need to fit in. I could pretend if I had to, I simply chose not to do so. I had my imagination, and my books, and my vague friends. The Boscos were the trigger for my realization that I liked my self-imposed exile. It was my own way of asserting my independence; a subtle screw you to the world in general. I got Boscos many times after that, perfecting my timing so that I could get in and out of the cafeteria before the rest of the crowd showed up. But no longer was it about getting them because they were the chosen food of the middle school elite. It was because I liked them, even bad for me as they were. I stopped needing to have them, stopped needing to fit in. Then in high school I stopped caring about being popular at all and started just being myself, and I magically made friends. It was similar to Bit realizing that she was normal in her own way as soon as she stopped trying to be normal in a stereotypical way: I found a place I fit when I stopped trying to force myself into the spaces I thought I saw.


  1. Wow, thanks Rachel for sharing. This was a lot to read, but it flowed well. I really enjoyed how you full circled with bosco sticks.

    Your entry was very revealing, yet it reminded a lot of my middle school years too. Although, what I think changed my ways as a self-imposed exile was by reading The Catcher in the Rye, when I realized that I am not alone. That there are other, sincere people in the world, or in school (aka, not "phonies").

    Anyway, I think my favorite line is "the Boscos were the trigger for my realization that I liked my self-imposed exile." The realization that your mind is being stubborn and won't change its ways... I could relate.

    Sometimes the less you try the better the results. But I wouldn't recommend that logic in the academic world.

    1. Sorry! I know it's a lot to read. That whole mess came out of the second in-class writing we did, I just sort of...expanded it. A lot. And I think it's pretty universal in the academic world that if you don't try then you're doomed from the start, but it's good that you point out that dealing with social pressures sometimes requires different tactics than dealing with academic ones. :)

  2. I love this point of insight: "I had discovered that it was better to be alone by myself than alone in a crowd."

    There is so much here, Rachel--thank you for going so deep. I think this is an experience that so many of us share. It's a resonant coming-of-age story through food. Nicely done!