In Praise of the Desk Lunch

When I worked in a small library where I was the only staff person, I often lamented my sad desk lunches. With the exception of the patients that would use the library, I spent my days alone, and so often my lunchtime was also spent alone. I did have colleagues from another (attached) hospital library and we would occasionally go out for lunch, but my midday meal was largely eaten in solitary.

I ate – for the most part – where I worked although I would usually stow the keyboard somewhere away from potential crumbs, and I would minimize any work-related browser tabs or documents I had open. A true vacation from work, right?

And it wasn’t as if I didn’t have options. There was a staff lounge and an outdoor patio area with picnic tables, as well as any number of benches on the hospital grounds I could have escaped to, but I rarely did. The lounge was a bit of a cesspool of negativity, and I really didn’t want that in my life. When I would occasionally use one of the communal microwaves there, I tried very hard not to get involved with conversations complaining about management, other staff, etc. I had worked for a lot of years in a workplace with that kind of lunchroom and so when I encountered that I would quickly retreat to my desk, grateful that I no longer had to endure that.

The outdoor options? Well as promising as they were, if you know me at all you’ll know I really don’t like being outside. Especially when the weather is very warm and especially at the noon hour when the sun is strongest. If I couldn’t guarantee a spot in the shade, I wasn’t interested. So back to my desk I would go.

And yet, I complained. Friends would post photos of work lunches, potlucks, camaraderie over the noon hour and I would be envious. I would scowl at my boring sandwich and veggie sticks like it was their fault they weren’t a four-course Italian meal lovingly prepared by work friends and brought in for all to share, or a glass of red wine at a colleague’s birthday lunch at a downtown bistro.

It was a lonely existence.

When I started my new job (it’s been two and a half years, but it’s still my new job) I noticed that hardly anyone ate lunch at their desk. There is a staff lounge here with all the things you need to eat a proper lunch, including a real kitchen table and chairs. People bring their lunches from home or they buy them from the cafeteria, and many of us eat together. It feels like a real and welcoming community, and it’s so, so great.

So each day I grab my lunch bag and head to the staff lunch room and chat with whoever happens to be in there at the time, or not. There’s no pressure to participate in conversations, there’s also not any exclusion from conversations, you can join in or not, you can just do what you want. So refreshing, and such a step up from my sad desk lunches of yore.

Last week we were informed that the lunchroom will be getting a real overhaul. New or newly-covered furniture, a new fridge (honestly!) and a few other razzle-dazzle kinds of changes will be happening, which is amazing, but it means that the room will be out of commission for most of the week while these things happen. We were told to plan our lunches accordingly since we would be without access to things like a fridge, the microwave, etc. So making my lunch this morning I built myself a sandwich and added a few other things to the bag, and then at 1pm, after my desk shift, I stowed my keyboard and closed my work-related browser tabs and docs, and proceeded to eat my lunch. And I found that I kind of missed it. After all those years of moaning about being alone and having a solitary lunch day after day, I was actually kind of excited to sit and eat without any other distractions.

I found I slowed my pace because I really had nothing else to do. I could have read my book, but I was almost halfway through my sandwich before I even thought about it. I scrolled through my phone a bit but even stopped that after a few minutes. I really just ate. And I realized it had been a very long time since I had just eaten without doing anything else.

There’s a lot to be said for eating and only eating, and there has been a lot written on the subject of mindful eating, of eating without distraction. Mindless eating is – or can be – eating on the go, eating while doing a bunch of other things simultaneously when you’re not even thinking about the food you are ingesting. Mindful eating encourages us to focus on the act of eating – without doing anything else – and this is kind of a lost art when there is a lot of pressure on us to always be doing something.

Meditation apps include courses and sessions on eating mindfully and a quick Google search turns up dozens of sites all about why and how to practice mindful eating. (I know this because I did a search after I ate my lunch.) And while it would be amazing to spend a full hour in contemplation of our food, even just a few minutes of only eating can have a positive impact on slowing down our day.

Once the lunchroom renovation is complete, no doubt I will return to the lunchtime social time, but I think every so often I’m going to make an effort to slow it down and find a quiet place to be alone with my lunch. Today was a good reminder that a desk lunch doesn’t have to be a sad lunch after all.

 

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