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Ritualistic Behavior 

From white bread to divine: the alternate universes of local lunching

Around midday, people in the Triangle gather or go their own way for lunch. Portrayed here are four groups and their lunches, each a different flavor, for different tastes.

ictures of space shuttles, rulers and frogs decorate the walls inside Carrington Middle School's cafeteria. At 1 p.m., every weekday, eighth graders fill the room with their noise and activity-- pinches, squeals, putdowns and yells. They meet at foldout tables and wait for a walkie-talkie wielding adult to wave them to the lunch line.

Among other daily items, the Cougar Country Café's menu features french fries, hoagies, rectangular slices of pizza, turkey tetrazzini and chili. Approaching the hotbar, one boy peers through a sneezeguard and into a silver tray. "I don't think I'm going to get pizza today," he says.

"It kinda looks rubbery," a nearby girl replies.

At one table, a boy dining on chili, fries, and a chocolate milk protects his food with outstretched arms. "They'll steal your fries," he says of his classmates. "You spit on them--and no one will take them."

Another student stabs a french fry into a dinner roll. It is his signature creation, which he leaves for the janitors.

These kids specialize in table pranks--slitting ketchup packets, tossing ice under the table, dropping a fry inside someone's soda can. They have favorite games too--plucking off aluminum can tops, kicking garbage bins soccer-style and flicking to each other's fork prongs.

One table often engages in a chemistry experiment. "We call it the Sample Test," a student says. "We'll mix a Gatorade with a Snapple at first. Somebody will shake it up and somebody will taste it. ... Then someone will pour another kind of Gatorade, and we taste that. Then someone will pour tea, and it tastes nasty."

At the end of the meal, the table will combine its uneaten food. As one students says, "We'll mix potatoes, greens, bread, French Fries, rice, steak, milk, chocolate milk, orange juice, doughnuts, anything."

There was once a teacher who would tell the kids to eat the mixture. As one boy explains, "That's who nobody likes."

nside Fit South, a 24-hour gym on Durham's Hillandale Road, neon red lights border the main weight room and spell "Cardio" in cursive script. On an overcast Saturday afternoon, amid the sound of slamming weights, a man in a tight T-shirt helps a woman on an ab machine. His name is Ray Crumpler, and he has the second best body in the universe.

At 41 years old, the Durham bodybuilder has been awarded Mr. North Carolina twice, Mr. USA once, runner-up Mr. International, ninth in the world championships, and two-time runner-up in the Mr. Universe contest.

To keep fit, Crumpler eats six times a day. "What we do, as far as bodybuilding goes," he says, "is try to put something in our system like every three hours."

Three of these daily meals are protein shakes, packed with muscle-building ingredients. The other three are breakfast, lunch and dinner. A typical lunch includes 1é4 cup of brown rice, 8-10 ounces of chicken, spinach and water. The lunch foods are tiny vessels of nutrition, which Crumpler eats for bodily benefit more than taste.

The brown rice, for example, contains carbohydrates, or energy, his body uses to lift weights. He has low and high days, which vary by 800-900 carbohydrates. The chicken breast delivers his body protein and fat. Protein, he explains, builds his muscle. He tries to take between 1.1 and 1.5 grams, times his body weight, everyday. The fat, although not the healthiest Omega 3 and 6 variety he consumes through vitamins, helps his body function. "Your body needs fat," he explains.

"You can't have a no-fat diet."

Crumpler's own body fat drops to 3 percent around competition time. Any lower, he says, is dangerous: "You can only maintain that for like 24, or 48 hours, because you really can't walk around with 2 percent body fat. I've seen guys pass out on stage because their body fat is so low."

His diet has one draw back, which is it's affect on his disposition. "[Bodybuilding] can affect your mind," he says. "You have good days and bad days. On a low carb day, you may snap. You may be trying to do something and you snap at somebody —'Don't interrupt me,' and stuff like that. You know, people on a diet get angry sometimes. ... Don't take it personally if a body builder snaps at you."

Although his own is a tough one, Crumpler is appalled by the diets of most people. He is most concerned with the eating trends of children.

"There's too many fast food joints going up," he says. "It puts the kids in a negative habit. That's why kids are so out of shape today."

In response, the 41-year-old wants to travel and teach about health. Already he is doing this with adults, as a personal trainer. He tells his clients that they can have pro-bodies too. "If you eat right and exercise," he says, "the sky's the limit as far as fitness goes."

utside the Hillsborough city limits, amid fields of grass, there is a yellow geodesic dome. In the first floor of the observatory-like structure, every morning at 9:30 a.m., two Hare Krishnas, dressed in draping garments, prepare lunch for New Goloka's residents and guests.

Devotee Stoka Krishna Das, a 26-year-old from Poland, explains that he and the other cooks prep themselves before touching any ingredient. "Before we go to the kitchen we take showers," he says. "We clean our bodies nicely. After we take showers, we don't eat anything. We purify ourselves internally by chanting the names of Krishna."

Hare Krishnas attempt to put the Deity at the center of all activities. "I try to meditate on cooking this for Krishna," Stoka Krishna Das says. "Not for my pleasure, for my senses, or others."

They also try to make their meals adhere to guidelines in the Vedas, or their sacred text. Ingredients are vegetarian; times are specified; prayers are chanted. And although no food is beneficial until it has been offered to Krishna, certain foods are spiritually healthier than others. Garlic and onions are foods of ignorance because of their strong taste. Cayenne and other spices are foods of passion. Fresh fruit and milk products are foods of goodness because Krishna said in the Bhagavad-Gita that he would accept them.

When Stoka Krishna Das finishes cooking he places a small portion of each dish in a separate silver cup. He carries these offerings on a silver tray up a spiral staircase leading to the temple room.

There, a higher level devotee takes the offerings and adds leaves of a tuasin plant--a symbol of devotion. She chants while she walks the food to the shrine. Lights shine on two porcelain figurines adorned in fresh flowers. On the left is Krishna, playing a flute, flowers and beads swinging off his chest as if he were dancing. On the right is Rhadharani, Krishna's lover, extending her open palm.

After the prayer and offering, the food changes: At first it was Bolga, or ordinary food. Now, it is Maha Prasadam, which translates as "Krishna's great mercy." The food downstairs, in the kitchen, has also changed: It is now Prasadam, Krishna's mercy, and is ready for eating. As Stoka Krishna Das said, "If you were to take Prasadam, you're heart will become more pure because you take mercy from Krishna."

n Rigsbee Street in Durham, in between Liberty Warehouse's two truck-sized entry ways, there is a screen door. Over it hangs a green and white signs that reads, "Pine State Milk." Beyond the door is Green's Diner, which has been in its current location for 22 years, and on the block for more than 50 years. Inside, to the right, a black and white television displays The Price is Right. The television's screen occasionally scrolls Bob Barker's unaging image and keeps its signal with wads of tin foil caked on the antenna tops.

The interior of Green's is long and rectangular, like the interior of a trailer home. Smoke-stained brown and white curtains hang over metal grated windows; tall brown vinyl booths line one side, and the cooking area fills the other. In the center of the restaurant, packaged honeybuns sit next to a display case decorated with an I Love Jesus sticker, cut-out comic strips and a notice for an upcoming revival.

The diner has never had a menu. Customers find out from Cecil Green, the 79-year-old cook, or Elizabeth Green, his 69-year-old sister, what is on the grill that day. Elizabeth, for example, recites one recent Tuesday's menu as, "Barbecue, pork chops, creamed potatoes, cabbage and navy beans. Tomatoes and slaw. Then we have barbecue, Brunswick stew and baked ham."

Her brother Cecil has been the cook as long as anyone can remember. His consistency is rivaled only by that of his customers, who take their favorite seats at nearly the same time each day. "We do about the same business everyday," Cecil explains. "It won't vary between 15 and 20 dollars. ... We have the same old crowd everyday."

Customer Steve Womble said there is such thing as a Green's client. "Everybody that comes in here is grouchy," he says. "It pretty much caters to old farts, old fogies, arrogant old grumpy men."

He says they sit around, arguing politics and rehashing ball games.

Green's current vibrancy pales to the days of the tobacco farmers. Originally, Green's was only open during tobacco season, three months out of the year. "Oh man, that was a fun time," Cecil recalls. There were apparently high-stakes poker games, fresh vegetable sales and huge parties around town.

Since the collapse of the tobacco industry, however, Green's has mostly served local tradesmen, retirees and men from nearby rooming houses. Eccentricities abound, and are tolerated. Steve tells the story of one regular: "We had this old man whose name was Lacy who was shell-shocked. He'd go back yonder and sit down and he'd get up, and come to the front. ... He'd catch Cecil looking, and he'd take him a honey bun--put it in his pocket. Go back, come up, and take a cookie--put it in his pocket. And everybody knew he was doing it, but nobody said nothing to him, I mean, he was shell-shocked. He came in here until the day he died."

The aging of Green's regulars is one concerning fact. When one of them dies, they collect money for funeral flowers in a glass jar, sitting beside the cash register. Even Cecil struggles with his health, occasionally drawing oxygen from an aspirator residing next to the hotbar. "I've seen a few times it looks like he ain't going to make it," Ed says of Cecil, "but he keeps hanging on."

Otherwise, the regulars keep walking in like clockwork. At age 65, customer Ray Smith boasts, "I imagine this food has kept me alive that long." l

  • Bored by your lunchtime routine? Check out the habits of these four groups.


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