I sat down to have breakfast at a highway restaurant stop in northern Ontario with a friend of mine this week. I had fried eggs and bologna. Of course, most of us realize what a poor choice this type of meal is on many levels — still it is like a treat to me. When I was a boy back home in Attawapiskat on rare occasions I would be treated to fried eggs and bologna. Eggs and processed meats like sausage, bacon or bologna was available but it was far too expensive for our large family.
During our sinful breakfast at the local restaurant we reminisced about our days as bologna eaters. My friend recalled lunches of bologna sandwich with mayo, mustard and lettuce. This sandwich seemed to be a big hit with non-Native people when they were young. Bologna was far too precious for us to simply cut up and put into sandwiches.
I first experienced the popular bologna sandwich when I was attending high school in Timmins and I lived with a non-Native family. My regular bagged lunch for school consisted of a bologna sandwich, an apple and a drink box. Most students took this little lunch for granted but it was a luxury in my mind. I really was amazed at the wealth of a family that could afford to provide such a wonderful lunch for so many in the household.
It was not that my family up north was desperately poor or poverty-stricken to the point we could not buy bologna. As a matter of fact, mom and dad were very efficient with the way they fed our family. Along with our two parents, there were nine children and a grandparent living in our small five-bedroom home. Mom and dad never bought merely a few items at the grocery store. They ordered products in bulk so that mom could prepare huge platters of spaghetti, lasagna, stews and soups.
Every morning, rather than the honoured meal of bacon and eggs or cold cereal with fresh milk, mom boiled tea and prepared a pot of porridge which we ate with watered-down canned milk and sugar. We also supplemented our diet with wild meats like caribou, fish, moose and goose and mom prepared recipes by baking, frying or cooking these traditional foods.
It was not easy to feed such a large family and grocery goods were always very expensive because of the remote location of Attawapiskat. Groceries came to us by barge, the winter road or aircraft. Once in a blue moon, a package of bologna made its way to our house. It did not last long as I and my brothers and sisters would compete for every last tasty morsel.
It was confusing for me when I started high school and I was introduced to the non-Native world. My world was turned upside down. Everything was new and it was all I could do to adapt to the speed and competitiveness of my new world. All of a sudden the coveted bologna sandwich became a lunch that I had routinely. After thinking for many years that bologna was a luxury item here I was downing sandwiches made with this pink packaged meat on a regular basis.
It was a real surprise to find out that in the non-Native world bologna was considered a poor man’s lunch. Back home in Attawapiskat we never thought of the origins of bologna. It simply tasted great and was easy to carry and cook. That made it valuable.
In my high-school cafeteria in Timmins, conversations regularly centred on the students’ disgust at continually eating bologna sandwiches. These were the days of food awareness and everybody joked about the mysterious meat syndrome as related to bologna. Bologna was quickly demoted on my list of favourite foods.
These days I realize the dangers of eating processed foods and I worry about my people up the James Bay Coast who eat too much prepared meats. They are high in sodium and saturated fats and have a risk of contamination. Still, at times my appetite for this sweet meat gets the best of me. Maybe it is all just a bunch of baloney.