While acute in the school year, the taunts and embarrassment don’t end with grade school. A quick search yields several online forums devoted to discussing the kind of lunches you should, and shouldn’t, bring to the office.
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Not surprisingly, a lot of the foods employees are discouraged from bringing to work are dishes beloved by immigrants. While such lists may masquerade as well-meaning etiquette tips, they smack of ethnic prejudice. A Houston Press piece from 2010 titled “The 5 Smelliest Foods You Should Never Bring To the Office” cites as its top pick “Mexican Food.”
“No other cuisine captures as many strong and offensive aromas as Tex-Mex,” the Houston Press writer complains. “Let's just say your coworkers won't be thanking you for either the Taco Cabana platter you brought back to the office or the indelicate scent you left in the bathroom an hour later. If you need a Mexican food fix that badly, stick to table service.”
It’s gotten so bad that some people have taken to calling October 24th “National Take Your Ethnic Food to Work Day,” described in the Huffington Post as “the only day of the year when you can finally bring steamed fish or Thai red curry to work without feeling embarrassed.” Really? Only one day a year?
My first instinct when my son told me his lunchbox story was anger. I wanted to send him back into his classroom armed with pride and an indifference to playground slurs. But I also wanted to shield him. He’s only six! Why should lunch be a battlefield? So, after gently reading him a little lecture on nutrition and the importance of sometimes resisting peer-pressure, I sent him off to school the next day. With a sandwich.
But the incident stuck with me. Although seemingly insignificant, standing up for what you eat, which of course is an extension of who you are, is increasingly important in this Trumpian, polarized climate. Today, symbols of white supremacy are no longer banished to the pages of history books; they show up in our local suburban Maryland schools and colleges.
And a lack of openness about diet may indicate a lack of curiosity about others. Take President Donald Trump’s recent Asian tour, for example, when Trump seemed to largely avoid the local cuisine in favor of his signature steaks and ice cream sundaes.
What to do? I posed this question on Facebook. Some friends advised a more scrappy approach. “Feed him nothing but stanky food until he learns it’s good for him,” advised Jeff Yang, a cultural critic who is also coincidentally the father of “Fresh Off the Boat” star Hudson Yang. Others counseled a gentler course — keep the ethnic meals home, pack less controversial food for school, pick your battles.