53. Lunchtime

I was stunned to read in the New York Times that in the town of Lodi, Italy, children who are no longer eligible for lunch subsidies because of new draconian rules, and therefore had to bring a lunch from home, have been barred from eating in the lunchroom with their classmates. The new regulations and requirements seemed aimed at immigrant families specifically, including those with children born in Italy.

This struck me as antithetical to the Italian spirit. Italy is clearly a child-loving and a food-loving country, and it is almost unthinkable that it would target children in this way. It is a country that takes its food and food rituals seriously, to the point where’d you be forgiven for thinking there was an actual law stating that everyone had to go home for lunch at 1:00. And it is a communal country, one that recognizes the value of togetherness and community.

Here’s an example, tangentially-related. For our last day in Italy last summer, Ben and I decided to splurge and buy first class tickets on the train from Bari to Rome. We looked forward to the roominess, the ample space for our luggage, and to bringing a wonderful lunch on board to enjoy. That morning in Bari before our departure, we spent a good deal of mental energy deciding our panini choices and Ben even treated himself a slice of Puglia pistachio cake.

So when we boarded the train, we were surprised to see someone else sitting in our seats, and of course, it turned out that we had bought our tickets for the wrong day. After first giving us the option of getting off, taking a local, and getting into Rome eight hours later than expected, we were given the option of buying seats in the cafe car, which we were happy to do.

So a couple of hundred euro poorer, we settled into our table and chairs in the cafe car, and pulled out our lunches. Of all the travel calamities that can happen, this was about as minor as they come, and now we would enjoy our lunch as the scenery slipped by. As we ate, the cafe car conductor bustled around, doing this task and that. When we ate our last bite and were collecting our trash, he came up to us and said, “I am so sorry, but you cannot eat food from the outside in the cafe car.” Clearly, he did not have the heart to actually deprive two senior citizens of their lovely lunch.

The view out the train window.

So it shocks me that in Italy, even in the thrall of anti-immigrant sentiment, children would be deprived of both the food and the experience of eating with their friends and classmates.

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