In the old days, when people worked on farms, lunch was the primary meal of the day. Everyone got up early to milk the cows and begin the day’s work. They then returned to the homestead at midday to gather for a big meal, some socializing and perhaps a nap before returning to the fields, fully fuelled for an afternoon of hard labor.As society became more urbanized, the tradition known as the “martini lunch” developed, where colleagues would come together at lunchtime in a restaurant for a long meal greased by a few (or more) drinks to network, make deals, and schmooze the boss.
Oh, how things have changed! According to research from Uppsala University, we are now more likely to grab a quick snack or eat on the run than sit down with family or friends for a traditional meal.
The New York Times reports that these days, roughly 62% of professionals eat lunch at their desk. While many say desktop dining allows them to catch up on work or address unanswered emails, it’s more likely that people are looking at Facebook or the latest viral cat video.
So eating at your desk isn’t likely to increase productivity or help you get ahead in the rat race. And while there are some health benefits, you have to wonder if they are worth the trade-off.
Studies have shown that you’re likely to consume more food when eating with a group. But on the other hand, one definition of the word family is “those who eat together” and researchers have found significant positive correlations between work performance (and general overall wellbeing) and eating as a team, or “family.”
Norwegian food writer and television host Andreas Viestad says, “Pleasure at lunch has been traded for efficiency. Lunch is about sustenance, a quick meal, so that you can finish your work and be home by 4:30pm or 5 to have time with your family.”
Viestad says that Norwegians are adamant about being super efficient at work in order to free up time for life outside work. And while this makes Norwegians some of the most efficient workers in the world, it’s problematic for food culture.
“Many Norwegians bring a matpakke, which is basically the same thing you eat for breakfast: slices of dark bread with ham and cheese and maybe some fruit, to work,” Viestad says. “You might eat in the lunch room but you’re done in less than 30 minutes.”
The trend for quick, efficient lunches is similar across Scandinavia. While for many years Danes enjoyed a beer or a glass of wine at lunch and often carried business lunches well into the afternoon, the tradition has almost died out.
Ole Troelsø, Food and Wine Editor at Danish daily Dagbladet Børsen says both urbanization and globalization have had a big impact.
“The culture changed almost overnight, in 1997. It suddenly became politically incorrect to drink and smoke and that was really felt in the workplace. People used to take the entire afternoon off for long lunches but today, everyone is working harder in order to keep up – they’re hurried and stressed and can’t sit down to enjoy a long meal with a beer. They need to get back to work and fight for their job.”
Swedes once enjoyed a husmanskost lunch – warm, heavy comfort food that filled the belly. That gave way to an era of “desk eating”, where workers grabbed a sandwich or a quick takeaway that they ate while continuing to work.
“That era is coming to an end. It’s stressful and anti-social to eat at your desk,” says Lena Ilkjaer, Editor of the White Guide Nordic. “People are starting to realize that lunch is a time to de-stress at midday and working straight through isn’t actually the most efficient thing.”
Ilkjaer says that while Swedes still bring a packed lunch or grab a salad at the local café to bring back to the lunchroom, they are re-learning the value of taking time to relax and enjoy food and company at lunch, although it often still has a work angle.
“Lunch meetings are becoming popular again. A good top-notch business lunch is the new early business dinner!”
Ole Troelsø laments the loss of the midday meal that once brought people together and hopes that we learn to find a balance.
“Three hundred years of tradition has disappeared. Keirkegaard once said, ‘Of all ridiculous things, the most ridiculous seems to me, to be busy – to be a man who is brisk about his food and work.’ I think people should take their time and enjoy life. Why so much hurrying?”