Amanda Nicholls laments the lost lunch hour…

It’s all too easy to eat badly at the office; those deadly treat bowls are always doing the rounds and you can’t seem to go a week without a few slices of obligatory birthday cake. Maybe making good old-fashioned lunch more of an occasion again would help us look more carefully at what we’re absentmindedly shoving into our mouths during a hard day’s work…

But first, the facts. Less and less of us are taking lunch breaks at all – apparently just one in five of us takes a full hour out of our working day, often hoping to impress the boss, or purely because of a heavy workload. If we’re not skipping lunch, we’re hunched over our desks, nibbling on something far from nutritious. If we’re going to desk-dine, we need to make sure it’s on something decent at least.

Surveys in recent years have shown some shocking statistics – apparently around 70% of us office workers are guilty of ploughing on through lunch, and those overworked souls in farming, nursing and teaching are said to take the shortest breaks of all. Despite their typically hectic lifestyles, it’s actually Londoners who take the longest lunch breaks on the whole, with bankers, PR folk and lawyers lunching at the most leisurely pace – well, there is an awful lot of schmoozing to be done, I suppose. Then there are those who choose to snooze on their lunch break rather than refuel with something fresh and delicious – surveys suggest those in construction and graduate roles are guilty of this (relinquishing those student habits is a bit of a shock to the system, to be fair). Age seems to play a part too, with many older workers grafting right through the day, unlike their younger, perhaps more care-free counterparts. And as for those ladies who lunch, it seems they are few and far between in many sectors, feeling most guilty about time away from the workplace.

The pattern has become more pronounced since the recession started too, reflecting our changing concerns. Reaching targets and doing well at work is all the more important now. Lunch!? There’s no time for lunch! And besides, going out and buying something to eat costs British workers around five billion a year. On the other hand, there are those of us who leave the house late and underprepared, and end up grabbing something quick but expensive and often unhealthy on the way in. Neither approach is ideal. According to Wrap (an organisation raising awareness of wastage), ‘boring’ foods like your typical ham or cheese sandwich, as well as fruits and yoghurts, get forgotten in the fridge and left behind as we’re wooed by more visually appealing, fashionable foods on the high street. This of course, means they end up getting thrown away – and we’re talking billions of pounds’ worth every year. Every year, 2.1 million tonnes of food primed for its big packed lunch appearance is turning up in landfill, including £821m worth of bread, and sliced meats to the tune of £94m.

The British Sandwich Association has launched a campaign to encourage Brits to ‘Love Lunch’. BSA Director Jim Winship explains: “Whilst UK employment legislation means employees are entitled to a minimum of a 20-minute break if they are working for six hours or more, it would seem that people are simply not making the most of the time. We want to use this year’s British Sandwich Week to remind people about the benefits of taking time away from their place of work, grabbing a nutritious lunch and, weather willing, enjoying some fresh air.”

There is plenty of evidence to support the benefits of taking a proper break for lunch, with some reports suggesting that time spent away from the office results in an increase in afternoon productivity. Lunch keeps your metabolism active – experts recommend a combination of complex carbohydrates and lean proteins to help provide a long-lasting energy source. And it’s a well-known fact that those who regularly skip meals tend to weigh more than those that eat regularly (see Weight Control Information Network for more).

It seems it is high time we put lunch under the spotlight. To make sure it happens for a start, and to make it as nutritious and cost-effective as possible. To think of ways to liven up your lunch – maybe make the effort to take a mini picnic to work, sit somewhere nice and get some fresh air on your lunch hour. Following the success of our Fed Up & Drunk breakfast week, next week we’ll be creating some lovely lunches of our own and sharing them – visit the blog each day to see what we come up with.

As further encouragement, the British Sandwich Association has teamed up with sandwich retailers across the UK to give away 1,000 ‘free lunches’ on its website during May as part of its ‘Love Lunch’ campaign. British Sandwich Week takes place from this Sunday, May 12th this year and will include a host of activities including the final of the Sandwich Designer of the Year and a world record sandwich attempt.

Sandwich Factoids
The record for creating the most expensive sandwich ever is claimed by chef Tom Bridge, whose Lancaster Cheese Sandwich was sold on eBay in 2006 for £345. The creation included white Umbrian truffles costing £1700 per kilo.

The world’s largest ‘pre-packed’ sandwich is believed to have been created by Roberts Bakery in Norwich. 2.5 metres long (down the longest edge), it was encased in half-inch thick perspex packaging. It was filled with Marmite, Princes Tuna and Hellmann’s Mayonnaise and weighed the same as 1,000 loaves.

The first ‘packaged’ sandwich is believed to have been launched by Marks & Spencer in 1985, thanks to the creation of an ‘easy seal’ pack by Hans Blokmann, then technical director of packaging supplier Danisco Otto Nielsen.

American franchise chain Subway has shot ahead of the UK’s biggest retailers, including Tesco, Greggs and Marks & Spencer in the sandwich stakes. However, Tesco outsells them in the numbers of sandwiches sold by several million.

The first sandwich – in name at least – was created by the 4th Earl of Sandwich in 1762 when he called for some cuts of beef to be placed between toasted slices of bread so that he could continue gambling while he ate. It is believed that sandwich-making dates from well before this time but was largely a food eaten by peasants. The Earl’s request elevated the humble sandwich from the fields to the tables of the aristocracy.

Chicken is still the most popular filling in commercially-made sandwiches. That said, other fillings such as cheese, bacon and ham are slowly catching up in the popularity stakes.

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One Response to Dining Al Desko

  1. Avatar Maxi Bennett says:

    …I’m terrible for desk dining! I should definitely give my eyes a break from the pc at lunch!

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