For me, even the sad desk salad may now be a happy one.
By Alexandra Jacobs
In recent years, lunch has taken a punch. The power lunch of yore became the power breakfast, or among the intermittent fasting class, the power nothing whatsoever.
The well-dressed ladies who had made lunch a verb squeezed into leggings and went to SoulCycle instead.
Rather than backslapping in a red leather booth and ordering three martinis — or just one — on an expense account, office workers lined up for their choice of chopped greens in a dubiously compostable bowl and accumulated loyalty points on an app.
My esteemed colleague Jessica Grose wrote a novel titled “Sad Desk Salad” almost a decade ago, a phrase so resonant that people were still tossing it around in late February of 2020.
Well, honey, if you thought those salads were sad, you should have seen the ones I made for myself, at home, in quarantine, at weird not-lunch hours like 10 a.m. or 3 p.m., incorporating whatever leftovers were available. If I were “laughing alone with salad,” like the women in a well-known meme of stock photography, it was not with delight at my sensible choices but with a kind of manic despair at the wanness of my single-serving creation.
Who knew when it was time to eat, or when to stop?
Of course many of us were saving lots of money by making this oft-maligned middle meal at home, and much embarrassment by not toting it in. Few probably miss the dark mysteries and petty grievances of the office kitchen: the purloined almond milk, the strange mortification of heating up rotating leftovers in a shared microwave while people hover and sometimes comment (“ooh, what’s that?”), the Tupperware that never really gets clean.
Honestly I think even the sad desk salad will now be genuinely happy, mostly because I’ll once again have a real desk — if a “hot” one — rather than being scrunched into the couch with my laptop, trying to keep the pile of unfolded laundry out of camera range.
But what I truly miss and can’t wait to get back to is something formerly taken for granted and so recklessly rescheduled: lunch as appointment and escape, the delineation of occasion and pause in the middle of an ordinary day.
Surely, if the purse permits, it is time to bring back the lapsed ritual of sitting down in public to dine with another adult in a civilized manner?
For the happiest salad is on a real china plate, with cloth napkins, made with thought and care by a professional, anointed with a special name. The mouth waters thinking of an artfully composed chef, Cobb, Waldorf or my particular favorite, La Scala — the Italian chopped number from Beverly Hills with salami and mozzarella and special “Leon” dressing borrowed, in an act of charming bicoastal regard, by the dear departed Theater Row restaurateur Joe Allen. With a side of fries for the table.
Yes, it’s time to shake the gross crumbs from our keyboards and the cobwebs from our noggins … and go back out for lunch! The restaurants, expanding into sheds and tents like so many Christo and Jeanne-Claude sculptures, need our business. Friends, even the introverts, need the company. And just as concerts and plays have intermission, the rhythm of our days needs a break in the middle.
Lunch. Let’s have it! Because I’ve had it.
Alexandra Jacobs is a deputy editor in the Styles department and the author of “Still Here: The Madcap, Nervy, Singular Life of Elaine Stritch.” @AlexandraJacobs
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