Sunday, September 15, 2013

The Lunch Meat Wars

What red blooded American child of the Fifties grew up without experiencing the gastronomic glory of a baloney sandwich; no one that I know. Baloney or Bologna was a staple at the lunch table or in the lunch box of all of us as we made our way through the school day.

Baloney also known as Bologna sausage, is a sausage somewhat similar to the Italian mortadella (a finely hashed/ground pork sausage containing cubes of lard that originated in the Italian city of Bologna. U.S. government regulations require American bologna to be finely ground, and without visible pieces of lard. Lard! Yuck! I wonder if we knew that back then if we would have eaten so much or even if our mothers would have even served it to us as much when we were young. Today there are alternate forms of bologna made out of chicken, turkey, beef, pork, venison or soy protein.

For a 10 year old kid, heaven was opening up a lunch box and finding a bologna sandwich topped off with a slice of tomato, some lettuce and a glob of mustard. Better yet if rye or pumpernickel bread was in the mix; but even with good old white bread it was all good. If the Thermos Bottle that came with that old lunch box was filled with grape Kool-Aid which we called “bug juice,” and there was a really-bad-for-you bag of potato chips involved, we knew that we have really struck gold.

Somewhere back in the annals of time, bologna changed. A very smart guy added olives, garlic, basil and sweet peppers to the sausage mix and created the olive loaf. We didn’t think that there was any way to improve on our favorite lunch meat, but we were wrong. We quickly adopted olive loaf as our new favorite. Soon those of us who had olive loaf in our lunchboxes looked down on the poor unfortunates who were stuck with plain old bologna.

Little did we know that the lunch meat wars were not quite over. One day as we sat smugly chomping down on our olive loaf sandwiches, one of the baloney underdogs came in with a smug smile on his face. There was an open seat right in the middle of the olive loaf crowd, and he made a bee-line straight for it. He had a plan. He opened his lunch box with a flourish, un-wrapped his sandwich and spread the wax paper wide and boldly flipped the top slice of bread revealing the next best thing; pickle and pimento loaf. Unlike bologna and olive loaf, which are sausages, pimento loaf is baked like a meatloaf in a loaf pan.

We could do nothing but stare! What in the world is this new creation? We watched him slowly spread his mustard over the next best thing in the lunch room and slowly took the first bite. He had planned this moment to perfection, asking his mom not to put the mustard on as she prepared the sandwich but to put it into a Tupperware container so he could made a show of his triumph. His slam dunk of the olive loaf crowd was complete and we all were relegated to having our Moms find his secret source of pickle and pimento loaf. We were all shot down in ignominious defeat.

We all eventually found our sources for pickle and pimento loaf and soon the ranks were joined with him and the lunch meat crowd was together again; sitting at that long table in the middle of the cafeteria happily eating our sandwiches and trading our desserts, but that is yet another story. Oh MY!

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