I’ve lost my lunch. No, not that kind of lost my lunch. As the pandemic has gone on and our lockdowns were extended, I found my meals disappearing. Our family has always started the day raggedly, each person eating then leaving as their schedule demanded. Lunch was midday because that’s what corporate culture expects. Dinner remains our only anchor meal. I hadn’t realized how much I enjoyed that my lunch had disappeared until I had to return to the office.
“You must eat lunch,” I’ve been asked rhetorically in the past. That was often a precursor to someone suggesting we have a lunch meeting. Pre-pandemic, it would have been pretty non-conforming to say, “No, I don’t.” Now? I think a lot of people have probably revisited some of the things that they used to do unthinkingly.
Let’s set aside that a lunch meeting is really just an excuse to fit a meeting – that is probably not necessary – into a time space that it shouldn’t be. If we shouldn’t be eating lunches at our desks, why would we want to eat them at a meeting? Lunch meetings have always struck me as a power move. Usually someone with higher prestige organizes a luncheon meeting to signal to subordinates required to attend that the high prestige person is so busy that the only available time is lunch.
In any event, I don’t eat a noon-time meal any longer. The lack of a corporate structure – meal, commute, work, meal, work, commute, meal – to constrain my food intake meant that I was able to start to notice my hunger cues. Even breakfast now is less of a start to the day and something that occurs when I am hungry after I wake up (a breaking of a fast).
More Than Food
I understand the social aspects of meals. They’re just not something that I’ve ever utilized in the workplace. My family meals are the places where I am social. A business lunch is much more about the business and strikes me as a waste of everyone’s time.
I’m also concerned about the reciprocity bias. One reason I’ve stopped taking pens and other tchotchkes from vendors or accept meals or coffee on their account is because of this. The other is that their expense account is part of a marketing budget that I am funding through my purchases with that vendor. So I’m essentially paying them to put me in a potentially conflicted position.
I’m also totally supportive of legislative requirements that people be given breaks and time for meals during their work day. Our jurisdiction requires an uninterrupted 30 minute eating period for most employees (not lawyers) or two 15-minutes, even the employee agrees in writing. And, as someone who schedules a team, I totally understand how having a set time for a meal break makes sense. It makes my job easier and gives everyone certainty.
On the other hand, it seems like it’s yet another area where we could ensure that the option to partake exists without making it a requirement. For example, everyone has the ability to take the legislated (or, in our workplace, 2x the legislated period) break for a meal. But if they decide to use that time in a different way – 6 x ten minute breaks, for example – by choice, I’m not sure why it should be an obstacle.
Obviously, there are bad actors or we wouldn’t need a law. You’d have to find a way to conform with the law which was written based on those bad actions and also an assumption that people eat meals in a particular way. I don’t always use a 30 minute or even two 15 minute breaks.
You Will Eat and Like It
My return to the office has been pretty laid back where it comes to food. As in the past, I start packing things into the office: something to drink, something to eat. I guess, once we’ve started kindergarten, most of our lives involve toting food around.
You’ll usually find a tub of Kraft Only Nuts Peanut Butter on my desk. This is tricky because of people with peanut allergies. But it’s a natural food that requires no refrigeration, so it’s an ideal food to leave at the office. No risk of someone looking in the staff refrigerator and eating your food.
Peanut butter has always been part of my diet. But it wasn’t something my immigrant family had had much of before arriving in North America. It’s still one of those things my mum only picks up when my family is coming for a visit to Granny and Grandpa.
I might be said to snack (or graze or some other non-meal descriptor) during the day but I think it has a bit of a negative connotation. I may not be dining but I am eating. Sometimes a salad takes me across two-thirds of the day, a meal that lasts 6 hours but takes only 30 minutes to eat.
It was hard, then, to adapt to a group meal with mandatory attendance. At first, my attitude was to balk. We had had a lunch meeting earlier and I’d just foregone the food. It made people a bit uncomfortable but it was momentary. My behavior was non-conforming but, because of the meeting, adaptable.
Not so with an activity whose purpose is a meal. It’s not that I’m averse to food, but I dislike the feeling that my organization is telling me when to eat it. My initial take was to just eat as normal and, if I wasn’t hungry at the luncheon, just decline to get food. I can’t stand food waste (nor, frankly, the use of non-profit dollars to pay for meals) so I didn’t want to get something and then not eat it.
In the end, I just extended my fast from the previous day. Conformity is a difficult thing to throw off. You don’t want to make colleagues uncomfortable, and I already went through that over multiple years when I explained that I don’t use alcohol at work. Fasting meant that I could ensure that I was hungry enough to eat when the time came, even if it meant I was hungrier through the morning. But it was not lost on me that I was adapting my eating to satisfy a corporate cultural requirement.
I find December hard to stomach in general when it comes to work festivities. I get that, for our organization, it’s year end. But not everyone celebrates “the holidays” nor even has a new year at January 1st. I’d rather see that joy spread throughout the year. I’d like to feel like some thought was being given to why we spend resources in the way we do. #Grinch #BahHumbug
I’m a manager. I get a lot of leeway about what I have to do and what I don’t have to do. It’s not lost on me that a lot of my decisions restrict my staff’s choices. As we start to work with staff who may not follow our same routines or schedules, law library directors – or managers of any stripe – should probably be holding up each corporate cultural tradition or requirement and think about how it impacts staff in ways we may not have considered. Until it impacted us.