(adapted from an article written by Aleeza Oshry for the Baltimore Jewish Times)
In my freshman year of high school, I remember this new sensation sweeping store shelves and crowding the airwaves and filling magazine ad space: Lunchables. Remember those? When every school kid who was “cool” toted one to the lunchroom. I never had one. Even before I kept kosher, my penny-pinching parents spit vitriol against the product because it was a bad value: paying for all that packaging, with almost no substance. For practically the same price you could buy a whole box of crackers, a pound of (unsliced) cheese and meat which would feed you for a week. Why pay all that money for a product that mostly ends up in the trash and isn’t even a satiating for one meal? Was it just my family (like it felt to me at the time), or were there others out there who’s families cared about a good value and keeping to a food budget? Yet it was such a successful product that Oscar Meyer has continued to increase production and expand the varieties steadily since the launch of in 1988.
I was recently reminded of the Lunchable sensation when tracing the fast paced track of our becoming a disposable society. I feel incredibly ancient when I start a sentence with “I remember when…”, but in the grand scheme of our time on Earth, it wasn’t THAT long ago that people would be embarrassed to serve a formal sit-down meal with paper goods (regardless of the design and color scheme). Now we have the “fancy paper” we take out for the holidays and when we have guests over. And maybe we use the forks that don’t break so easily when eating/slicing meat. And in the snack isle of the supermarkets, there are shelves and shelves of individually packaged single serving products to put into our kids lunches. If you’ve ever looked at how many ounces of crackers or cookies you get compared to buying by the box, and then looked to see how much you are paying for … it’s hard not to admit, even in our subconscious as we throw one into our cart because of convenience sake and saving a few more seconds in the morning when preparing the day’s lunches, that we aren’t getting a “good value.”
Polling working women to learn their biggest meal time hassles, Oscar Mayer in 1985 found that making bagged lunches topped the list. Recognizing that the prepared lunch category was a relatively untapped market, Oscar Mayer set out to create a product that would revolutionize the industry, create a solution for busy moms and help to boost company sales. Oscar Mayer developed a novel design to keep the three separate ingredients (meat, crackers and cheese) fresh, intact and appealing to consumers on its way to market. Using a “gift-wrapped” appearance, with compartmentalized, sealed plastic tray with viewing windows that allowed consumers to see the product inside, led to the Oscar Mayer innovation winning the Food & Drug Packaging magazine "Snack Food Package of the Year" for 1989.
Oscar Mayer started a consumer trend of increasing the amount of disposables, of waste, in our society. Whereas I still went to school with my reusable lunch bag and a reusable thermos, the tide was definitely changing with regards to what was considered "cool" and acceptable to spend money on for everyday lunches.
Maybe it’s time we take another look at our practices. Being critical of our consumption and our generated waste not only gives us added value for our pocketbook, but has rippling effects for our community vitality as well. Municipalities, businesses and organizations are adopting sustainable best practices for operations and management because of being able to more easily function in a volatile economic climate as well as repair/remediate the health of our environment by reducing impact and leaving a positive mark.