Lunch Duty: Misfit Tables and Why We Love Them

Imagine this: It’s your first day at a new school. Maybe you’re brown-bagging it, or you’ve just paid for your mystery-meat sloppy joe. You’re standing in the cafeteria, tray in hand, scanning the crowds of the lunchroom in search of an empty seat. More important than an empty seat, you need a table that looks welcoming.

That’s when you spot it: the misfit table.

In films, TV shows, and fiction, the cliques of middle and high school lunch tables have been well documented. Maybe you can’t relate, but it’s a familiar scenario for a reason. The thought of having to find new people to share a meal with can make many adults cringe.

So, why is the misfit table so popular in stories? Here are a few reasons why misfits may band together, particularly in the cafeteria:

Everyone feels left out sometimes.

Regardless of your social standing in middle school or high school, everyone has felt slighted at one time or another. The misfit table, at least in fiction, tends to welcome the shunned, offer comfort, and embrace the wonderfully weird and offbeat.

No one likes a clique.

By definition, cliques leave some people out on purpose. During a school day, cliques seem to be most obvious at lunchtime. So much so, that some middle school students have started an initiative called No One Eats Alone Day. On the designated day, schools can opt to participate in the event, which ensures that everyone is included at lunch by asking students to sit with different friends and classmates than they usually do.

Because bullying is a hot-button issue, the misfit table can be seen as the anti-clique of the lunchroom, welcoming kids from all walks of life.

Misfits = Comfort.

Adolescents are trying to figure out who they are, and they may struggle to feel comfortable in their own skin. Many kids can feel pressure to fit into a group. Quite often, these groups are conforming to “norms based on stereotypes rather than reality.”

When peering out across the lunchroom, there’s a clear choice: Conform to a norm that may make them uncomfortable, or do their own thing with people who won’t judge or pressure them? It’s reassuring to think they’ll be accepted for — and even appreciated for — standing apart from the crowd.

We ♥ the underdog.

It’s a proven fact that most of us love to root for the underdog. Because there’s a push for our culture to shift and to celebrate diversity across race, gender, sexual identity, etc., the misfit table often embodies this celebration by welcoming everyone.

Though a lot of movies and books feature high school misfit lunch tables, many cliques and groups develop well before freshman year. Posted, a new novel by acclaimed author John David Anderson, focuses on the middle school years, where words — whether texted or written — can be just as cutting as those in high school. Click here to read a sample.

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