Saturday, June 9, 2012

Lunchboxes – Better Living Through Technology

It has been quite some time since I have needed to understand Lunch Box Technology.  The last time I carried an actual lunch box was in grade school, and it looked like this:

In fact, judging from the shape that lunch box is in, I think it IS my lunch box.  You see, I had a habit of throwing it out the bus window just before arriving home, so I could walk back and pick it up.  Why?  Because I was 7, and because the lunch box didn’t have a Thermos.

If you’re familiar with this sort of meal receptacle, you will know it came with a handy Thermos bottle designed to keep your milk cool until from 8 AM until 1 PM while the lunch box sat on the counter over the radiators by the window in the full sunshine.  The Thermos was held tentatively in place by a metal catch that didn’t really work and, as the Thermos bottles were lined with glass, it was a rare (and careful) child who still had the original Thermos bottle that came with the lunch box by the time the Christmas holiday rolled around.  Mostly, they’d have cast-offs from their sibling’s old lunch boxes, meaning they might have a Johnny Quest lunch pail but a My Little Pony Thermos which, if spotted by an older kid, was certain to be drop-kicked across the cafeteria.

If something like this occurred, the procedure was to shake the Thermos before opening it; if it sounded like a maraca then you knew the milk was laced with shattered glass and drinking it was not an option, except on a dare or as a practical joke on a smaller kid.

So, long story short: my Thermos bottle was broken, my parents did not have a replacement for it, ergo, I could toss my lunch box out the bus window.

When I got older, I brown-bagged it, a popular option for kids too old to be seen carrying a metal box with cartoon characters embossed on it.  You could always tell the kid with the frugal mom, because he would carefully fold the bag, put it in his back pocket and use it the next day.  I think I had the same bag from 9th grade until the day I graduated.

When I was employed by New York State (when you are a Civil Servant, you quickly learn not to say “State Worker” because there is always someone within earshot who will remind you that “State Worker” is an oxymoron) I didn’t need a lunch box.  My friends and I used to spend our lunch half-hour playing Nerf football in the lobby of our building (we worked nights, it was empty, mostly) or drinking at a nearby bar.  Sometimes we would even return to the office after lunch to finish out our shifts.  (I didn’t say the “State Worker as oxymoron” was necessarily wrong.)

These days I go to the deli around the corner from my office or dine at restaurants if I’m on the road.  On the off chance I need to carry food with me, I just pick up a prepared sandwich at a petrol station and chuck it in my briefcase.  My wife, however, is more health conscious and, more to the point, not on an expense account, so she recently decided to purchase a lunch box so she could take a healthy meal to work with her.

What she bought looks something like this:
I was amazed; they didn’t have anything like that in the States last time I looked (which, to be fair—and as noted above—was quite some time ago).  Surely, they must have them by now; America couldn’t fall so far behind in the race to develop a technologically superior nutrient conveyance device, could they?  Or has Europe become the dominant player in the portable repast arena?

Whatever the case, this is a splendid piece of engineering, containing a plethora of compartments cunningly snuggling into one another.  It has a place for everything—including food—and proprietary paraphernalia that, once lost, is impossible to replace without buying an entirely new lunchbox (face it, even the most technologically advanced piece of kit has its drawbacks).  This was, naturally, the first thing that happened, which was why I soon found myself looking at high-tech lunch boxes yet again this past week.

In the meantime, my wife is still using her old, no-longer-complete lunch box, but I’m wondering if she might let me use it.  I don’t really want to take my lunch to work, mind you, I’m just interested in seeing how far it will bounce when I toss it out the bus window.


  1. I have a Disney bus lunch box (sans Thermos) just like yours. I bought it at a thrift store 20 years ago for $20 as an investment and it's still worth $20. I mostly brown bagged it as a kid eating potted meat sandwiches on crumbly homemade bread and drinking warm milk from my still-intact Thermos. I remember you could buy replacements for the broken insides. Old city dumps must be full of broken thermos bottles that weren't worth replacing the bottle.

  2. Those Disney lunch boxes must have been popular--I was surprised to find the very same model that I used to have in a photo on the web. My lunches--box or brown bag--were usually a baloney sandwich on Wonder bread. I don't have very many fond memories of school lunches.

  3. The amount of lunch boxes my kids lose during the course of a school year is truly staggering. AND they don't even come back at the end of the year. We have the fairly modern canvas looking ones, that are meant to keep things at their original temperature, and they can get fresh milk etc at school. I have seen those fancy ones, but they are only in specialty stores and they cost an arm and a leg. Needless to say, I'm sticking to the cheap variety.

    1. Brown bags, that's the way to go. ;)