Food by VICE

This Mom Says a School Humiliated Her Children with Cheese Sandwiches

It's hard to say what qualifies as the shamiest food of all. But one Waldorf, MD mother says that schools use plain cheese sandwiches to embarrass students.

by Hilary Pollack
May 21 2015, 10:30pm

Photo via Flickr user Julia Frost

What is the food of shame? Is it going all-in on a jar of cookie butter while standing alone in your kitchen in sweatpants at 3 AM? Or is it eating bologna out of the package with your hands while you crying on your catch during a midseason episode of The Bachelorette? Or, really digging deep, is it mixing butter and sugar into a paste and eating it with a spoon while listening to Maroon 5?

It's hard to say what really takes the cake as the shamiest food of all. But one Waldorf, MD mother is certain that plain cheese sandwiches fall into that category one way or another.

Grilled cheese sandwiches just might be God's greatest gift to mankind. Toasty, melty, savory. But take the heat away, and you're left with pleadingly plain and processed white bread, stiff slices of American that stick to the roof of your mouth, and a strange feeling of melancholy.

MAKE IT: Fried Shrimp Grilled Cheese Sandwich

Lisa Hogan is firing back at local school officials in Charles County, MD after they made the audacious decision to give Sadness Sandwiches to her children when her school lunch account fell into a paltry $12 of debt. According to WUSA9, the system "humiliated" her kids and says that the decision to serve them the food of paupers is "bullying" and "extremely offensive."

School lunch workers told her children—Justin and Hailee, both seven-years-old—that they didn't have enough money to purchase food when they took their loaded trays to the end of the lunch line to check out. Instead of, say, calmly making a note of the account issue and giving their mother a call later on, the staff threw away the entrees in front of the kids and then handed them new trays topped with only the plain cheese sandwiches that would spark the outrage to come.

"I think this sets them up for ridicule and bullying," Hogan tells WUSA9. Although she admits that she had absentmindedly neglected to keep up with payments, she argues that she should have been contacted before the switch was made.

But Katie O'Malley-Simpson—a spokesperson for Charles County Public Schools—argues that the "last thing [they] would want to do is embarrass or stigmatize an elementary school child." But she also asserts that when any accountholder in the school lunch program falls behind by more than $12 on their payments and doesn't qualify for federally subsidized for free lunches, miserable cheese sandwiches are what's on the menu until the debt is resolved. About 154 of these "alternative" lunches are served in the county every day. Sorry, kids.

As it happens, Hogan actually experienced more flexibility than she would have in neighboring Prince George's County, where there isn't even $12 in leeway. Fall a penny behind, and your kid's getting something resembling a sliver of rubbery Swiss on a pathetic, untoasted slice of beigeness.

This isn't the first time that cheese sandwiches have become a source of embarrassment for elementary schoolers. The practice of serving them as "alternative lunches" to the indebted goes back as far as 2007, when parents complained about it being a "badge of shame" in Los Angeles. "One student cried when her macaroni and cheese was replaced with a sandwich," says an LA Times article from that year. "A little girl hid in a restroom to avoid getting one ... Sometimes kids pound them to pieces."

"I cried when I read this, I cried for every child that was being treated this way and for what I knew it did to them," a DailyKOS writer said about the sandwiches at the time. A few more feathers were ruffled about the scandalous alternative lunches in the years since, but they've continued to be handed out to empty-pocketed students since.

Hogan isn't the first parent who doesn't want their child to hang their head at being served different, and presumably crappier, food than their peers.

But one question begs to be asked: why not throw those things on the griddle and make these kids a lot happier with a grilled cheese? Add some pickles while you're at it. A scarlet letter doesn't have to taste bad, too.

grilled cheese
school lunches
cafeteria food
Lisa Hogan
charles county
cheese sandwiches