Sometime in the past 50 years, we went from leisurely three-beer lunches with co-workers to eating hunched over our desks while reading blogs about neighborhood food trucks. No one’s actually working more, but simply giving the appearance of working more. You didn’t see Sisyphus eating while pushing that boulder.
It’s a depressingly familiar sight: A broken person clutching a flattened sandwich, with their bleached office face lit by the sad glow of the screen, displaying work that is no way being completed. Often this horrid scene is interrupted by a supervisor’s question, causing a thin pickle to fall from the sandwich between the keys, where it rests until the company files for bankruptcy.
That’s a long way from the mythological hour-long lunch from ancient times. Co-workers would cheerfully feast and drink like the prisoners on the roof in The Shawshank Redemption, and just for a moment, feel like free men. Inevitably someone would get around to saying, “Well, it’s too late to head back to the office, we might as well go home.”
Today, millions across the nation eat at their desks like saps under the mistaken assumption that it increases productivity and saves time. You’re probably reading this at your desk during lunch right now, aren’t you? I certainly am.
Only one in five American workers take a lunch break, and a quarter of millennials agree with the statement, “I eat alone to multitask better.” We all like to believe that masticating in this manner somehow makes us a supremely efficient employee, one of those first at the office and last to leave types of people. But in reality, eating at your desk is only useful in a texting-while-driving type of way.
According to studies done by people probably eating at their desks, noshing away from your workspace reduces stress and has a restorative effect on the brain, meaning that the shitty ideas you have during those awful brainstorming meetings would be a little less shitty if you left the office more often. We should all just skip work entirely.
This doesn’t imply that you have to buy lunch every day at your local Arby’s or Chuck E Cheese. If you like to bring lunch from home—in my case a balloon and a can of Stagg—simply try to eat it away from work. Or do what I do: spend your entire lunch break going for a brisk walk, and then eat that homemade lunch at your desk. What matters is getting away to remind yourself of the other worlds out there, worlds where the excel columns of life are filled with trees and sunshine and pretty girls in gingham dresses. This sentence would have been better had I left for lunch today.
But look, if you insist on eating at your desk, or if your boss shoots anyone who tries to leave for lunch with a sniper rifle, it’s best to opt for meals that are dry and holdable in one hand, like cotton candy, astronaut food, a flattened two-day-old ham sandwich or a nice package of Lunchables. You don’t want wet, slippery food that can fall and slip between the keys, eventually tunneling its way into your motherboard and destroying all those precious gifs.
Stay away from stews, saucy racks of ribs, spaghetti, fondue, sulfuric acid or any menu item that features the word “messy.” One exception is Alphagetti Soup, because if you spill the letters may land on their corresponding letter on the keyboard, and then you can laugh and laugh.
What you should do is focus on breaking the desk dining culture at your office. For instance, when a co-worker is eating at their desk, slide up your chair and join them. “I like the ambience at this place,” you could annoyingly comment. “Do you eat here often?” When eating at your own desk, spill food on multiple work computers until the muckety-mucks insist you eat outside the office for the sake of the budget.
At the very least, begin some sort of desk lunch exchange program, so you can dine at another person’s desk while they munch at yours, just for the sake of variety. I’m currently eating at Pete’s desk. I accidentally got some cheese dip on his Trapper Keeper.
We don’t all need to get away by taking our lunch break at the top of a mountain or anything, but if this awful trend isn’t broken, even desk eating could become a lost luxury. One day the office lunch may involve a field of American workers simultaneously tilting their heads back and opening their mouths as an overhead drone sprays a protein mist.
And yet, even under those circumstances, a supervisor will inevitably walk up to an employee mid-spray and interrupt his lunch. “Hey Bill, did you get my email—oh my god he’s chewing my shoulder someone get him off me!”
Don’t be like Bill. Eat as far away from your desk in the most beautiful spot that you can, even though you’ll probably spend the entire lunch staring at your phone.
Photo by bradleypjohnson, CC BY 2.0