There’s an expression, I heard it from a Greek uncle: “breakfast alone, lunch with friends, dinner, forget it.”
I appreciate the quiet contemplation of a solo breakfast to ease you into the day and I also appreciate the brio of lunch with friends.
For nearly 20 years I ate lunch with the same crew of colleagues at work. The lunches were indeed collegial, but in the most combative way. One of us would raise an issue and the debate would begin. Arm waving, table slapping, chair shifting would ensue, arguing issues from the aesthetic to the political, violently disagreeing, only to find at the end of the hour, that we did we agree.
They were deeply satisfying meals, but it wasn’t because of the food. Each of us had our standards and preferences–one would mince over a Whole Foods salad, two sensible moms would brown bag, claiming the saved money and calories could be enjoyed elsewhere, and one would buy deli lunches served in styrofoam. It was not the food, but the conversation, the expression, the challenge that salted those meals.
And despite being mere brown bags they were deeply satisfying, so much so that we kept it up for years, moving from picnic tables to unused conference rooms as the season dictated. Though, they were an acquired taste; some mistook the energetic discussions for stressful belligerence. The group would grow and shrink depending on the appetite for the salt and vinegar of these conversations.
It was the closest to a salon I’d ever come. A regular group, each with a known position, issues tossed out for discussion, rewards given for sharp timing and clever expression. And the discussion topics were indeed topics—not that you were feeling bloated or the brilliance of your children. Those were topics that were saved for private, more selected, door-closed conversations. It sounds unsympathetic and it was certainly unsentimental, but it was bracing to step away from self and battle over the best route for a new transit line, whether suburban downtowns could ever be “real” downtowns, what the government’s role and effectiveness was in any given action. Music, politics, movies, fashion, history were all on the table at a point in the day when our minds were limbered but in need of a break.
When I left, those lunches were among the things I missed most. I put my spork down reluctantly. But I still enjoy lunch with talkative people. At a bakery with members of a writers group reminiscing about childhood reading, it is delightful to find someone who agrees that The Wolves of Willoughby Chase is an overlooked masterpiece. Or with clients in Miami, under umbrellas, comparing travel and food notes and considering ourselves very lucky to be dining al fresco in February. Or with an old friend, gently recalling times, knowing what doesn’t need to be said, and leaving something for the next time.
And now I have the luxury of sitting down at noon and not getting up until three. How louche to let the rest of the day quietly unspool—the ribbon on this bow having been pulled.
That said, lunch food deserves some attention. Whether you’re brown bagging or doing a weekend stretch, upgrade your lunch—the food and the company.