(Not-So) Naked Lunch
Outfitting your office with tableware for more a civilized lunchtime
The majority of my existence is planned around food. When my eyes pop open at 6:30 or (hallelujah for late sleeping) 7 a.m., the first thoughts in my head are about eggs, yogurt, fruit, pancakes, oatmeal and other delicious breakfast delights. Not too long after that’s sorted out — somewhere between pouring that first cup of Community Coffee and rinsing the breakfast dishes in the sink, it’s time for me to contemplate a lunch menu. You might say I agree with the late director — and later in life portly — Orson Welles, who reportedly once said, “Ask not what you can do for your country. Ask what’s for lunch.”
Like most people, I work eight or so hours a day, so lunch takes many forms. It might be a business lunch somewhere fabulous (I’ve become a bit partial to chef Susan Spicer’s Mondo, which temporarily closed due to loss of electricity and smoke damage from a fire on July 7, but thankfully is slated to reopen as soon as the authorities give the green light. Phew!); a guilty pleasure visit to the drive-through window at Atomic Burger for a “Jamburger” (bacon-onion jam — trust me, it’s worth the calories); or something yummy brought from home.
The latter is of course the most frequent lunchtime scenario. Occasionally, I’ll eat in the break room, but more often than not, I’ll opt to nosh at my desk. In fact, I’m not alone. In a 2010 CareerBuilder survey, 18 percent of workers reported eating at their desks. My guess is that number has grown in the past four years.
In an earlier post, I detailed the Cubicle Beautification Project of 2014. As mentioned in that missive, I — like most workaday types — spend more hours in the day at work than home, so creating an inviting, warm work area makes for a much more pleasant workday. This philosophy spills over into my lunch break.
Not only do I make it a point to take a lunch break (It’s good for your body, creativity and productivity!), but I also endeavor to make it as artful as one can in an office setting.
For me, this takes the form of lovely, real tableware (Bonus: This is a bit more eco-friendly than disposable paper or plastic plates, plastic ware and paper towels). It’s surprising what a difference it makes to eat using a placemat, cotton napkins, pretty plates and bowls and flatware. Whether you are eating a turkey sandwich or the amazing red beans and rice leftovers from Monday night’s dinner, it is much more pleasant when consumed on a plate, rather from a plastic or Pyrex storage container.
When shopping for your break time tableware, break out of your usual decorating themes. This is an opportunity to get something different than what you’d have at home. If your dinnerware at home is casual, get an elegant, delicate, formal china. If your tastes skew more neutral at home, because you have to share a space with another person for example, opt for something super feminine or overtly masculine. Now is the time to be whimsical if that’s what you desire, because it’s one place setting, so why not?
I’m still on the hunt for flatware, but currently my ensemble is orange, yellow and wine-colored floral melamine with a cream-colored base. A stark contrast to the candy colored Fiestaware at home. The placemat is ribbed, neutral cotton and the napkins are wine-toned cotton (I bought a five pack so I can take the dirty ones home and wash them throughout the week and still have backup in the rotation). I kid you not; the yellow squash ravioli Lean Cuisine I had for lunch yesterday was infinitely more appetizing once I transferred it into that sweet little melamine bowl.
It’s truly the little things in life, don’t you agree?
If you think this is a bit elaborate and time-consuming for the act of chucking down a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, I assure you, it takes all of two minutes to create a charming place setting at your desk or in the break room and the benefits are numerous.
In addition to the obvious aesthetic reward, it’s a reminder that a meal is a ritual and a moment of respite. Your lunch break should be just that — a break. This 20, 30 or — if you are lucky — 60 minutes of the day is an opportunity to nourish and replenish your body and refresh for the rest of the afternoon. While removing these lunch accouterments from the drawer, locker or shelf where they are stored, placing them on the table or desk and filling them with the food you’ve packed from home, you are not only preparing physically for the act of eating, but also it serves as a pause and a marker for switching gears out of work mode and into break mode. All of this promotes more mindful eating, which aids in digestion and again, enjoyment. For those watching their waistlines, here’s a bonus: Experts say that you’ll eat less (and curb stress) if you eat mindfully.
Yesterday’s spaghetti is suddenly becoming a lot more appealing and artful, isn’t it?
Yes, I believe lunch, at work or elsewhere, can — and should — be artful. Take artist Pierre-Auguste Renoir who found the subject of the mid-day meal compelling enough to celebrate it in his famous circa-1881 painting, “Luncheon of the Boating Party,” (“Le déjeuner des canotiers”). If Renoir’s depiction is a tad hoity-toity for your tastes, the 2012 documentary, “Men at Lunch” tells the tale of the iconic photo, “Lunch atop a Skyscraper,” in which ironworkers rest, eat and chat while perched on a beam high upon the half-built Rockefeller Center.
Finally, while not exactly about lunch or food, the great philosopher Aristotle said, “The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance.” Therefore I propose that a beautifully, and artfully, set meal then is about more than just pleasing the eye; it’s also about pleasing the soul — if only for one lovely little lunch break at a time.