October 23, 2006

Too Busy to Sit Down For Lunch

One of the more depressing "American lifestyle" stories I read this week was the Globe's piece about workers who no longer stop to eat lunch during the day.

"One-third of employees skip lunch weekly, mostly to work, and when we do eat out, it's -- no surprise -- fast food, according to Mintel, a Chicago market research firm," writes Maggie Jackson in yesterday's BostonWorks section. "We also multitask like crazy at lunchtime: 46 percent of workers run errands, 43 percent work, and 47 percent read or watch TV while eating. ...[S]topping and pausing are not part of most people's noontime vocabulary."

Does anyone take things like this into account when we try to measure "standard of living," and talk about quality of life?

A well-prepared, well presented meal eaten with tranquility and full attention is one way to savor a civilized life.

I've become a firm believer that how we eat almost as important as what we eat, in terms of both health and weight control.

We'd be satisfied with fewer calories if we eat more like people in France and many Mediterranean nations have traditionally done: fresh foods, smaller portions and real dishes and silverware, creating leisurely meals without distractions like TV or reading. The lessons of the Mediterranean diet isn't to gulp down some wine and pour on more olive oil while you chow down leftovers on a paper plate in 10 minutes. The stress we feel as we rush through our food definitely doesn't help our digestion - or our state of mind.

Mireille Guiliano, author of French Women Don't Get Fat, notes that the French typically "spend our social time talking about what we enjoy: feelings, family, hobbies, philosophy, politics, culture, and, yes, food, especially food (but never diets). . . .

"French women take pleasure in staying thin by eating well, while Americans typically see it as a conflict and obsess over it. French women don't skip meals or substitute slimming shakes for them. They have two or three courses at lunch and then another three (sometimes four) at dinner. And with wine, bien sûr. How do they do it? . . . One hint: They eat with their heads, and they do not leave the table feeling stuffed or guilty."

Sounds good to me!

Now I have to confess here that most weekdays I eat both breakfast and lunch at my desk; sometimes, it's all three meals. But at least most days I'm lunching by my computer terminal because I've taken a 25-minute break to go out with my office walking buddies. And in the morning, I choose more walking (and sleeping later) to breakfasting at home, eating my healthy whole-grain cereal at the office. Still, I definitely could bring more livability to my life by making a greater effort to dine in a more civilized fashion.

But at least some weekends I do! And I've found that making time for unhurried meals along with other types of relaxation helps create a better mental environment, which in turn helps create a more appealing environment overall.

"Not too many generations back, lunch was the main meal of the day," the Globe story notes. "Now the average lunch 'hour' is less than 30 minutes, trimmed from 36 minutes a decade ago, according to a 2005 survey commissioned by office furniture maker Steelcase."

Wouldn't it be great to have a community where we needed more cafes to linger over food & drink with friends, and fewer drive-through windows and greasy fast-food chains?

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