Photographer Lucy Schaeffer packs nostalgia for school lunch in new book

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Former White House Chef Sam Kass reveals that his lunches were fairly healthy, making it impossible to have anything to trade. Photo by Lucy Schaeffer.

School lunch carries an identity that can create pride and comfort or scar you for life. Photographer Lucy Schaeffer asserts that school lunch is an interesting juxtaposition between culture and family. Time, place, ethnicity, and economics are all factors that contribute to what most children eat for lunch, coupled by parental preferences. She captures brown paper bags, cafeteria trays, and personal accounts — including a mother packing the same lunch for six years and selling a cute brother's picture in the cafeteria to buy junk food. Her book is “School Lunch: Unpacking Our Shared Stories.”


“School lunch is one of the core reasons I became a chef,” says Marcus Sameulsson. “The school lunches helped me set up an appreciation for taste, even the stuff I didn’t like.” Photo by Lucy Schaeffer.


“Growing up I was always hungry,” reveals two-time World Heavyweight Champion George Foreman. As one of seven children who received a single meal a day, he describes blowing up a brown paper bag to take to school in order to avoid the shame of not having lunch. Photo by Lucy Schaeffer.


Chef Mourad Lahlou grew up in Morocco, where students were dismissed from school for two hours to share a family meal at home. Photo by Lucy Schaeffer.


Teacher Josephine Mangual recalls growing up in a Puerto Rican neighborhood in Harlem, where a small group of mothers would bring piping-hot food in fiambreras (stacked tins) every day. Photo by Lucy Schaeffer.


Lucy Schaeffer says school lunch is a conversation starter. “Someone you may have known for 20 years, it’s a little tidbit of their life that maybe you don’t know.” Photo courtesy of Running Press.

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Evan Kleiman