Food & Drink » Glenda Bartosh on Food

A sure sign of back to basics

Cheese, please, to get me up to speed



See all those bright orange, multi-foot-long blocks of what we call "cheap cheese" around here, on special at just about every food retailer from here to Timbuktu? Those are today's annual markers of Labour Day.

In these "rich" times when "trade union" is a dirty term and the right wing is vociferously dragging the social conversation evermore right "in the name of the almighty dollar" as my neighbour puts it, it's nearly impossible to imagine that Labour Day was started to celebrate the accomplishments of the labour movement in getting fairer working conditions for people around the world.

I put that out there as context because Labour Day has now become something else entirely: It's the last long weekend of the summer, drawing a regrettable line in the dry sand between socks 'n' shoes and sandals. It's a trope for freedom vs. lack of it, fun vs. practicality, with the former in each case losing out to the demands of back to school, back to routine and back to work, with all those better conditions labour activists fought for and won.

It's the harbinger of last-minute desperation, if, and that's a mighty if, you haven't had your fill of picnics; camping; summer rambles along your favourite byways; or rockin' music festivals in rolling meadows or Loggers Sports Grounds.

But it's that cheese that gets me. Those epic chunks of cheesy orange cheese made from all that gorgeous milk cows have been churning out all summer long. Every time I see a case filled with chunks as big as a size-13 shoe for five bucks apiece, I picture the millions of cheese sandwiches about to be pumped out across the land in the name of convenience and practicality.

Cheese sandwiches in bright pink Svenja Girl Robot lunch packs, and Wildkin Olive Kids' big dot or road construction lunch bags. Cheese sandwiches in the big people's slick, insulated, Thermos kits and stainless lunch carriers (along with a leftover Greek salad or some cold quinoa dressed up with pine nuts), otherwise known as dabbas or tiffin boxes that the dabbawallas in India have been carting around for centuries with homemade food bound for office-bound husbands, but North Americans have only recently discovered the practicality of.

Grilled cheese sandwiches at home for the relieved parents who get to work there, or maybe not, while keeping an eye out for the baby at the same time. Cheese treats for dogs strategically positioned near the counter while sandwich making is underway.

Sandwiches — cheese or not — have been the mainstay of working-class and student lunches alike for generations, mainly because you can eat with one hand and keep on keeping on with the other.