For nearly everyone who attended public school there were certain lunch days that were met with a little extra enthusiasm. But there was one in particular that didn’t necessarily get the same attention as pizza or taco day. I’m talking about the cafeteria chicken sandwich, a patty of pressed chicken scraps pumped full of sodium and dyed white to create the illusion of purity.
The cafeteria chicken sandwich was a marvelous feat of processed food dating back to the days when lunch ladies would serve you your meal with a cigarette in their mouth and scowl on their face. There was always a part of me that felt that was the only thing missing—just an angry lunch lady accidentally dropping cigarette ash on my mashed potatoes like fresh ground pepper.
It’s amazing how sometimes something so bad can be so good because that is the essence of what the cafeteria chicken sandwich is all about. While there was a certain eagerness to the first bite, it was matched by an equal amount of total trepidation. After all, none can forget the dreaded cartilage bite—that awful moment when your teeth hit that chewy rubbery chunk of God-knows-what. Even if there was still time left in the lunch period, lunch was over. You’d drop the sandwich in disgust, spit the bite into a napkin, and look up to see your peers’ empathetic faces.
Some days you’d get lucky and get to eat the whole thing, but it was always a clear sign of a bad day when your first bite hit that disgusting chunk of chicken bits. All you would have left is your French fries, which you’d dip into the mixture of ketchup and mayo—you know, the glorious concoction known as mayup sauce.
And frankly I can’t think of a better analogy for American life than the cafeteria chicken sandwich. It’s equal parts good and equal parts bad pressed, breaded, and placed between two preservative-laced buns.