Most weekdays at 1:24PM my neighbors’ doorbell buzzes urgently with no less than four shrill rings. Buzz! Buzz! Buzzzz! Buuzzzzzz! It’s loud enough that it could be confused for my doorbell which was startling at first, but by now, I’m used to the drill. It’s not an eager postman, but rather a hungry ragazzo (kid). Three or four days a week my neighbors’ two grandchildren come to their apartment for lunch. The other days, the 13 year-old boy and 12 year-old girl eat at home with their mother. After the kids arrive next-door, I hear the clatter of plates being set on the table, muffled voices debriefing the day’s events, followed by the clinging sounds of clean up. Some days, following the meal, my neighbor gives her granddaughter a clarinet lesson: “La la la! Brava! La la la! Bravissima!”
I was surprised when I first learned my neighbors’ grandkids didn’t eat lunch at school, and a bit smitten too. The image of school kids walking to their grandma’s house for lunch seems pleasantly old-fashioned. Maybe it pulls at my heart strings because I grew up next-door to my grandparents. I headed straight from the bus to their place for after-school snack and often stayed through dinner. Do all kids in Italy eat lunch at their grandparents’, I wondered? I started asking about it to friends from a range of generations. Everyone had a story about their kids’ lunches or about lunches from their own childhoods.
My recent lunchtime observations have spurred me to think more deeply about the differences between American and Italian meal time norms– eagerly joining the researchers who have come before me. In conjunction, the school lunch reform movement taking place in the U.S has also been central to my thinking. Even though I don’t have children of my own, my care for youth, value for generational connections via shared mealtimes, and intrigue into food reform led me to set out to learn more about what kids are eating for lunch in Italy. I found myself in the depths of the interweb reading news articles, research studies, parent blogs, and conference presentations about the mense scolastiche (school cafeterias) in Italy.
To share with you some of what I learned I’ll be crafting a series of blog posts this week about school lunches in Italy. First up: Tomorrow I’ll answer my initial question: Do all kids in Italy eat lunch at their grandparents’?
Photo credit: Photo by Corrado Forino via flickr creative commons