Chapter 3: Writing Exercise

Dr. Laura Roxann Alexander
6 min readFeb 27, 2024

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School lunches and Anne Lamott

I want to be a writer. I think I have always wanted to be a writer, maybe because I love reading and stories. Ever since I can remember I’ve wanted to be immersed in the world of literature. To be a better writer I just need to write. I need to sit down and write and stop trying to be so perfect. I do have a story to tell, and it won’t get told if I am too scared and too much of a perfectionist to even put it on paper. So, I bought a book (books are the key to solve any problem) and I am learning to write. Author Anne Lamott is giving me inspiration to seek to write, not seek perfection. Anne Lamott’s iconic book, “Bird by Bird: Some instructions on writing and life,” has been around for over 25 years. It is without a doubt, changing my process of writing and storytelling. This chapter is about a few lessons I learned from the book. I think it will help me become a better writer, but more importantly, become a storyteller (which is what I want to magically happen.)

Anne Lamott is a teacher, and she instructs her students to start small and let the story unfold. One of the assignments she gives her students is to write about school lunches. Some might say what a boring topic and I initially scoffed at the idea as being a waste of my time, but I began the exercise anyway, since I bought her book, I am in a sense her student and I would never not complete an assignment in school (way too much of a perfectionist for that to happen).

It might first seem like this has nothing to do with health but look deeper. Focus on what I might be filling inside. Maybe you might even feel a tightening in your belly or your heart rate starting to rise. You might even remember your school lunches. Maybe they were good experiences, but maybe they weren’t. Maybe school lunches are not so benign.

This is what I wrote while waiting for a session to start at the Integrative Healthcare Symposium in New York City after reading the chapter about school lunches.

I don’t remember much about school lunch. More just visceral feelings. I’m sure I had a cute lunchbox, maybe Hello Kitty or Barbie. I don’t remember what I ate, but I can assume it was mostly bread or wheat products in the form of processed crackers and kid snack food. I don’t recall eating any veggies or much fruit. I certainly didn’t have any protein to speak of. I do know I wanted to look, be, feel like one of the cool kids. I’m not sure I liked lunch time at school.

After I wrote those few words, I started to try to just remember the sounds, the setting, and the characters that would have been surrounding me during lunchtime. What was my experience of school lunch? What was the environment like during this 45-minute window, 5 days a week, 37 weeks a year, for 12 years? It could be most days weren’t stressful or eventful at all. Most likely it was boring for much of the time. But when I really think about it, I think maybe my body was a little on edge during a school lunch. Because sometimes something would happen and you might be the butt of a joke, or get left out from the cool kids table, or maybe your stomach hurt, and you didn’t know why (as the case with me almost all my life). What would the something be? I think the something for me was hoping to stay under the radar and yet be a part of what was happening. That seems like a very difficult spot to aim for if you ask me.

Anne might have meant to describe the actual food that one child might eat at lunch. I don’t think I ate food. I think I ate processed junk, devoid of nutrients but full of chemicals, sugar, additives, flavoring enhances, and emulsifiers. During the 80’s and 90’s fat was bad, and carbs were good. Ultra-processed food isn’t real food. It isn’t real because our biology does not recognize the many chemicals that are mixed in with the genetically modified wheat, corn, or soy that make up that food. You might think some of those foods are getting better for us, but they aren’t. I saw at the Walgreens front check-out counter a few days ago as I dropped off my genetic test kit at the FedEx drop off location, a new item: cereal straws by Fruit Loops. Seriously, cereal straws. That’s what we are starting our children’s days with? Main ingredients: high fructose corn syrup, sugar, color additives, and others I can’t remember. I laid it down with disgust.

These foods are even more plentiful and available for adults and kids since I was a child. I think in part because all the kids my age who didn’t learn that those foods are harmful, see no problem letting their kids have it for breakfast. The food manufacturers hijacked breakfast 70 years ago. They also took over school lunches and lobbied for tomato paste to be a vegetable. It’s up to us to take back those meals and teach our kids what real food is and how to eat to fuel the body and mind.

So, while I was sitting in a cafeteria, hyper-aware of all conversations going on around me, I was also feeding my body chemical stuff that damaged my stomach and activated my immune system. Even if I brought food from home, it wasn’t very healthy. I do remember eating a lot of cheese sandwiches. Cheese sandwiches. How ridiculous is that. Maybe I had two slices of processed turkey on there but mostly bread and cheese. I also loved cheese-its back then, so I am sure I had a baggie of those in my lunchbox. The school lunch wasn’t any better. Pizza. Fried chicken fingers. I have no idea what else. Maybe there was pudding? I can’t recall vegetables. I think there is a law stating there must be vegetables, but also pizza counts because of the tomato sauce (yes, that is a fact), so I am not sure what other vegetables would have been on the menu. I wouldn’t have chosen them anyway. So, lunch time didn’t provide my growing body with much in the way of nutrition. I think back to what I ate as a child, and I can’t believe I don’t have any more health issues than I already do. The body is resilient. It will work very hard to use all available nutrients for the most important biological processes and then off load the rest. Like off-loading an app that you don’t use anymore that is taking up gigs of data on your phone.

Back to school lunches. The point of the exercise is to practice getting thoughts onto paper. Even about a topic so mundane as school lunch. I think Anne is trying to get you to think deep and recall those long-buried memories from childhood. She wants you to practice putting a picture together using words that describe the sights and sounds that surrounded you. The best writers can capture that and weave it into the story so the readers can paint the picture in their own mind. Even a scene as basic as school lunnch can tell you alot about the main character. Since this is a memoir, that character is me; a 40 year woman who wants to change the world. I want the world to be a healthier place. I want to tell my story in the hopes you will make it healthier for yourself and for your kids. We can start with school lunches.

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Dr. Laura Roxann Alexander

Pharmacist.Personal Trainer.Lift heavy, skip the run.Let food by thy medicine and medicine be thy food.