Lucy Schaeffer is a commercial photographer, specializing in food and lifestyle for clients such as Chipotle, Starbucks, Disney, Martha Stewart Living and The Food Network. This is the fifty-third book Lucy has shot but the first one of her own vision.
Lucy lived in Brooklyn for over 15 years but recently moved up the Hudson River where she now resides with her husband and two daughters. More of her work can be seen on her website: www.lucyschaeffer.com.
WHY SCHOOL LUNCH?
Author and photographer, Lucy Schaeffer, on how the journey began
School Lunch was born when my "mom" brain combined with my "photographer" brain.
Tucking my kids into bed one night four years ago, my mom brain was running scenarios of what I could possibly pack them for lunch the next day. Simultaneously, on my photographer mind was an overdue promotional mailer for my photography business that I had yet to conceptualize and execute.
As I lay on the floor next to my daughter's bed, I mused that my parents had it so much easier back in the 80s with daily PB&J's—a lunch staple I could no longer rely on in the age of nut-free modern parenting.
I began to wonder about other school lunches in different times and places. I thought about adults I knew who ate horribly as kids and turned out just fine. Right then, it clicked to combine photography and lunchboxes and create a back-to-school promo piece about school lunch. I decided to launch a mini investigation, interviewing various people I knew from different backgrounds and then recreating their lunches to photograph in the studio.
At that point, I had no idea the depth and breadth of experiences I would discover. I never did make that promo piece because once I started asking, "what did you have as a kid for school lunch?" I couldn't stop.
Living in New York City made it easy to reach a wide variety of people with very diverse backgrounds. I turned into the kind of person who starts conversations with strangers and Lyft drivers. I interviewed old industry contacts, friends and acquaintances, and relatives of friends of friends. Very quickly I had a wealth of stories.
I enlisted super-talented food stylist, Chris Barsch and brilliant prop stylist, Martha Bernabe to help recreate as many lunches as we could in painstaking detail. I started scoured the internet for vintage tiffin tins from India, and retro Kermit the Frog thermoses...we were handling memories and I wanted to get each one just right. For fun, some of those props are now available in my shop.
Ten years as a commercial food and lifestyle photographer informed my vision but this was still new and exciting territory. I've shot about fifty cookbooks over the years but the goal of every one was always to make the food look good. It was a refreshing change for us to let the cafeteria pizza cheese congeal to just the right level of gross, or the apple slices get nice and brown, or squish the sandwiches the way they would really be after riding around in a lunchbox for a few hours.
School Lunch grew into a grassroots campaign and how I got to each subject is a story in itself. I've now spoken to hundreds of people about their school lunches. I’ve collected stories from people aged six to ninety-three; hailing from twenty-five different countries and all across the United States. I've interviewed celebrities, homeless people, strangers, my parents, our corner bodega owner, and my Korean father-in-law.
Viewed all together, School Lunch makes me feel a little better about humanity. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed making it.
The stories included in the book were the ones I found most compelling, but there were countless others I would still love to photograph. I will try to post additional tales as well as fun school lunch tidbits on the blog page of this site. Please visit the forum page to tell me your lunch story or just say hi!