In Defense of Lunch

Lunch_043013I eat the same thing for lunch every day — vegetables, hummus and pita bread. No, I’m not a vegan health nut. No, I’m not a rabbit. No, I’m not a vegan health nut rabbit. I’m a guy who sits at a desk all day and needs to eat.

My coworkers find it a little odd. They find it funny. They find it amazing that my steady diet of vegan rabbit food doesn’t drive me to afternoon microwave popcorn and pod coffee binges. That’s okay, I enjoy the ridicule. My behavior is odd and funny and amazing, at least within the mundanity of office life. It also makes perfect sense. So let’s unpack my lunch.

Lunch in midtown Manhattan isn’t cheap. Oceana, one block over, serves a tasty Salad of Grilled Louisiana Shrimp with mango, young coconut (none of that geriatric, senior citizen coconut), yogurt dressing and cashews for $27. The Capital Grille features a Wagyu Beef Carpaccio, dished up chilled with wasabi arugula, for a price that magically appears on the check moments before you lay down that American Express Black card. What can I say? Bankers like seafood and steak, and investing taxpayer money to make billions, which then gets funneled back into bonuses and expense accounts and spent on pricey lunches.

Okay, that’s not exactly fair. There are cheaper lunch options in midtown. Chop’t will run you $10 and change for a decent salad. And they leave out the “p” for parasites and the “e” for  E.coli. I don’t know where the “d” went, and I’m a little suspicious of that “t.” The subsidized cafeteria in my building costs even less for pretty much anything you want. The food is good too, at least as cafeteria food goes.

But for a mid-level office worker, making a mid-level office worker salary and paying mid-level office worker bills, it almost doesn’t matter. I don’t have $27 to drop on lunch. I don’t even have $10 to spend, at least on a regular basis. That’s $200 a month that wouldn’t go to my mortgage or my student loans or my kid’s daycare or some other trapping of the middle class. My budget doesn’t have that kind of flexibility.

Fine, fine, so you kind of have to bring your lunch, Mr. Winey Face. That doesn’t mean you can’t mix it up a little. Variety is the spice of life and blah, blah, blah and [insert Facebook cliche superimposed on a gauzy picture here]. Fair point. And I would bring other types of food if I cared. But I don’t, so I don’t. Lunch isn’t that important of a meal to me. I just know I have to eat it to function. And variety in a meal that barely registers, that just tides me over until dinner, seems like an unnecessary indulgence. I wouldn’t even appreciate it. I’d just feel bad foregoing the usual only to spend time and money in the process.

My variety comes at night and on weekends. Living in a great food neighborhood (Jackson Heights) in a great food city (New York) does have its benefits. Some of the best take-out places around deliver right to our door. Many of the best food carts are a short walk away. As is this amazing Uraguayan bakery, and this killer chicken restaurant and this Thai place that everyone writes about and this Argentinian steakhouse and this new BBQ joint. And holy crap, have you ever had real Indian sweets? I could go on until I break down, walk two blocks in any direction and gorge myself. It all costs the same as non-banker lunch in midtown.

We could also think about this in terms of calories, another currency of middle age, if not middle class. In my teens and 20s, I had plenty of spare calories to work with. So I ate Fig Newtons and mini-donuts and super-sized extra value meals topped with scoops of lard, drenched in Hershey’s syrup and wrapped in peperoni pizzas… and then deep fried and served with a side of poutine. But my store of extra calories, like my spare cash, seems to be shrinking with age. I can’t eat like I used to, not if I want my pants to button and my heart to, you know, beat. I’m okay with that. Only when I started to eat healthy did I realize that I could feel better.

So with calories too, I have to pick my moments. Will it be an overpriced underwhelming lunch, or an under-priced overwhelming dinner? I’ve made my choice. And that means a steady lunchtime diet of veggies and hummus that cost me couple bucks and a few hundred calories a day to balance it out. Fine with me.