What Is Everyone Doing For Lunch These Days?

I fear tumbling back into the familiar embrace of Big Corporate Salad now that I'm back in the office.

A person sits at their desk with sandwiches on a plate
Photo: Getty Images

So what are you doing for lunch these days? And how does lunch feel to you now that so many of us are being nudged out of our homes and back to our offices? For that matter, what even counts as lunch in these strange times? Before March 2020, lunch was generally accepted as what you ate between the wake-up meal (if you were a breakfast person) and the pre-sleep one, assuming that you're a three-squares sort of eater and your life allowed for food intake between the two. It was ephemeral and personal. Douglas Adams wrote in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, "Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so." and that's always made sense to me. Anyhow, while you were stuck at home, lunch probably got weird for you. It sure did for me.

One of the many things I love and admire about my husband is that when he finds something he loves, he sticks with it. In the early days of the pandemic, he found a sandwich he liked to make — a grilled ham (or turkey) and Swiss with half-sour pickles and plain Lay's potato chips on the side. In the miasma of unstructured days of that first year at home, punctuated by my wakeup alarm, sirens, fireworks. and the 7 o'clock nightly clangor in praise of the healthcare workers at the hospital a few blocks from my home, the smell of Sandwich O'Clock wafting from the kitchen enveloped me like olfactory Xanax. It was the calmest sensation I could count on in any given day, and I still have a Pavlovian response every time he makes one.

I, on the other hand, foraged the fridge like a raccoon for whatever was available and edible. There was an initial period of rationing, when I didn't know when and where food was going to be available. But I found my work-from-home meal groove, instinctively shifting through distinct phases and habits like: "rice, eggs, and hot sauce all fried together with random vegetables," "stuff heated up on a tortilla and doused with hot sauce," "eggs, herbs from my Aerogarden, hot sauce, and whatever on a tortilla," "things that can be spread on a tortilla and drizzled with hot sauce." I ate combinations of things I wouldn't ever think to serve to someone else, but that nudged my serotonin levels up enough to remind me that I still had enough of it in my body to keep on trudging.

Now, as I return to the office, I find myself stumbling once again when it comes to lunch. I'm inevitably in a bit of a panic when I leave the house, bundling out the door, doing a mental check of all the chargers, devices, badge, medication, headphones, spare sweater, and other office accoutrement I never had to consider before, so a packed lunch slips my mind, or overburdens my already shorting circuits. I don't have a tortilla warmer, skillet, or a fridge I can rummage through at my desk in the office. In our new flexible space, I don't even have a dedicated desk at which to store my beloved hot sauce, so I had to make a deal with a colleague who does. There are a trillion lunch options in the building where I work, but even before the pandemic, I felt like a chump each time I forked over $7-$15 dollars for an indifferent sandwich or a chopped-to-order salad. I vowed that it would be the very last time that happened. It never was.

Now, facing that decision again, I realize how much I genuinely enjoyed the ritual of stepping away from my work or doomscrolling to plunder the depths of my kitchen cabinets, refrigerator, and freezer to piece together my lunch. It pleased me to flick on a burner and steal a few minutes to ground myself in the scent and smell and physicality of cooking, taking time to assess what would bring me pleasure — today some dill from the garden on my eggs, maybe tomorrow some Lao Gan Ma. In the new workplace reality, grab-and-go or something microwaved doesn't feel like it's going to fill that same void, even if it technically sates my stomach.

But if the past few years have taught me anything, it's that I can learn to adapt. Now, I just have to find a backpack big enough for a hot plate and a skillet. It'll be Sandwich O'Clock again somewhere.

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