OPN_190418-Students-lunch-_P2-1555594363422
The concept of sharing started in school with each of us dividing our lunch into equal portions before starting to eat. Image Credit:

No, this is not a review of the movie, but a look at the evolution of this container. Back in the day we all carried lunch boxes filled by our mums and often discovered their contents only when we opened them during the break.

Although I studied in a coeducational institution, it was always the girls who searched for a place to sit down and eat. The boys were too busy planning the logistics of some game and sports took priority over eating. The concept of sharing started right here, with each of us dividing our lunch into equal portions before starting to eat. So, everyone tasted all the meals or snacks. This exercise was sometimes fraught with tension if we were reluctant to taste something that we were not particularly fond of. One had to be diplomatic and make sure feelings weren’t hurt. You might feign a lack of appetite, but this could boomerang on you as you would have to go hungry if you wanted to keep up the pretence.

Generations of students have bonded over this ritual over the years. But of late in India some schools are stipulating what foods children can bring after some unfortunate events such as a class six pupil of a school in Kolkata sharing a chicken sandwich with his friends, some of whom were vegetarian. The student was roughed up and his parents called to explain. The school next issued a notice asking the children not to share non-vegetarian food. Some other schools in this city have asked students to avoid bringing non-vegetarian food or to let others know what they have brought before sharing. Some schools in Hyderabad as well as Ahmedabad have issued orders banning certain food items.

This turn of events seems bizarre to me. As children, we respected differences and never made anyone feel that their choice of food was strange or even unacceptable. If there was something we didn’t eat, we simply stayed away from that food without making a fuss. One school in Gurugram took the extreme step of ordering a vegetarian meal for a Sikh student who had brought an omelette in his lunch box.

When did we become so intolerant and why is this divide being encouraged in children? Young people are smart and capable of making their own decisions. If they feel that their choice of food is making others uncomfortable, they will ensure that what is packed for them is something everyone can eat. Fitting in with the crowd is so important to them and they will not do anything to jeopardise this.

Different food choices

Vegetarianism should be a choice, not forced upon anyone. No sane person would intentionally serve something which is not acceptable to others whose food choices are different. If you are a vegetarian and invite friends who are non-vegetarian to a meal, you will not be expected to serve any meat-based dish. Similarly, when a non-vegetarian invites a mixed group to lunch or dinner, there will always be a choice of dishes to cater to both groups, with the vegetarian dishes set apart so that no one ends up inadvertently eating something they don’t want to.

What we should teach our children is that people eat different kinds of food and that’s it. No food is good or bad. It’s all a matter of choice.

Among my group of friends in college, there was just one vegetarian whose food at home didn’t even include onions. Yet, on her birthday, she would treat us to lunch at a Chinese restaurant (a luxury most of us couldn’t afford then) where we all ate what we wanted while she stuck to the vegetarian options.

Food has the power to bring people together, to share an experience.

Vanaja Rao is a freelance writer based in Hyderabad, India.