FOOD & FITNESS / NOV. 20, 2013
version 2, draft 2

Lunch at Work: “A salad and cappuccino, per favore!”

Lunchtime approaches. You’ve been sitting at your computer all morning. The clock inches towards 1pm and you start thinking about lunch. If you brought sandwiches and ate them at 10am in a fit of boredom, you’re either not hungry now, or ravenous for another ‘distraction’. For many, there is a constant struggle between consuming cheap lunches brought from home or costly ‘treat’ food bought at a local café.   

What’s she eating?

How many colleagues’ lunches do you envy? There’s always the colleague who brings her lunch every day, and munches on fruit at morning tea while everyone else stuffs themselves with chocolate digestives. You might not covet her lunch – usually an anaemic-looking sandwich – but you do feel a stab of irritation at her self-control.

There’s also the colleague who always buys lunch at the local sandwich-bar, café or Marks and Spencers. Every day at 1.15pm, he returns to the office clutching a large paper bag, the contents of which he consumes at his desk. A burger, gourmet sandwich or pie, washed down with a huge, over-priced take-away coffee. Then, he spends the rest of the afternoon stifling burps, as indigestion sets in.

In all English-speaking countries, lunch is a speed-bump in the rat race – many of us barely slow down to consume it!

Contrast this with countries like France and Italy, which have a completely different philosophy towards lunch.

The midday meal is so important in these countries that many office workers have their lunch subsidised by their employers – either with a canteen lunch on-site or by providing special ‘tickets’ for a full restaurant meal. Italy’s economy might be struggling, but that doesn’t mean that Italian employees go without when it comes to food.

I taught English for years in Rome, and occasionally would  be given a ‘ticket’ by my students so I could join them for lunch at a local trattoria. For 2 euros, I would get two courses – often a small bowl of pasta followed by a meat or fish course and a side dish of vegetables or salad. After lunch, we would pile out of the restaurant and into the local coffee bar for a quick espresso before returning to work.

Sounds great, but we don’t have that here.

Since we don’t have many work-subsidised lunches in English-speaking countries, how can we inject the same joie di vivre into our own lunch hour? Here are 3 tips to get you started:

  • Use the kitchen at work. If you have a kitchen at work, start thinking about it as an extension of your own home. Bring in bags of salad that you can keep in the fridge and eat over a couple of days, with a bottle of homemade vinaigrette. Add some protein to your salad with tuna, left-over chicken or a boiled egg. Keep some bread sticks or crackers at work to have with your salad, instead of buying bread. Or just use the kitchen to heat up soup, or left-overs from the night before.
  • Adopt a different attitude to coffee. In France and Italy, a shot of espresso after lunch is a digestive aid, rather than a hot beverage. In the English-speaking West we prefer mega-cappuccinos, so it’s not surprising our lunch ends up repeating on us. Espresso coffees are not to everyone’s taste but if you like black coffee and have kitchen space at work – try either making yourself a small plunger coffee after lunch, or using one of those little Italian stove-top boilers (without milk), as a way of finishing lunch.
  • The importance of rituals. Lunch is an event in France and Italy because people make it a daily ritual. Use lunch as a way to punctuate a bit of ‘home’ into your working day, and you will notice your attitude towards your lunch hour will change.

So next time you unwrap that ho-hum sandwich and glance enviously across at where your colleague is consuming a huge pasty, think about how you can make lunchtime an ‘event’. Inject a little European attitude into your working day – your mood, and your stomach, will thank you for it.

Either that, or try asking your boss (nicely) to provide a full lunch every day, Italian-style!

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