Posts Tagged: lunch

got a french fry?

image from www.flickr.comToday I get busy at work and I take a late lunch, around two.  I've still not re-stocked my refrigerator sufficiently since coming back from my holiday, so I go get a salad at the Longo's salad bar and take it to the little park next to the Bay Adelaide Centre, where plenty of office workers are still sitting, eating, smoking, talking… wanting a little sun, like me.

The gal next to me is sharing her noodle dish with Seagull, that french fry loving lurker.  She snubs the other moocher Pigeon, who wanders into the space every few minutes but seems to be out of her favour for some reason or another.  I'm inclined to feel sorry for Pigeon, but he looks plenty fat and happy and I'm hungry.

After the noodle-sharing gal leaves, Seagull turns his attention to me in his nonchalant way – sending me flirting looks in hopes of some salad-dessert. I don't know – I don't think he's too hard done by either.

let me get it

The other day, eight colleagues and I went out to lunch on the occasion of one person’s last day with the company.  After lunch was finished, H disappeared and came back putting his credit card in his wallet, saying he had got lunch for the table.

Immediately people started saying things like “oh you can’t do that” and “please, how much do I owe you?”  H just said quietly, “it’s Christmas, and I like all of you and you’re great to work with and I want to buy lunch.”

If it was a conscious decision to simply accept gestures like these, I don’t remember making it.  Maybe I’m just mindful of the notion that a kindness like this is not only enjoyed by the receiver, but by the giver too.  Often the giver enjoys it more. 

And with meals –the sharing of food and conversation together – the offer of one person to buy a meal seems especially warm and genuine.  While my financial situation was such that it wasn’t possible for many years, I can now to offer to buy the meal when I go out with someone and I get a great deal of pleasure in doing so.  As I imagine it did H that day.

So when H countered the protests with such grace, I just said to him “Thank you H, you’re very kind.”

I got to wondering why people feel obliged to protest a gesture like that.  Is it some kind of modesty or percieved duty to let the person off the hook in case they really don’t want to pay?  Or some more deep-seated  issue, some kind of threat to one’s strength as a person?  Of course I know there is no intended falseness in the spirit of the protests, but it's like they’re almost expected when the gesture is extended. 

So when it was clear that H had paid for the meal and that was that, I suggested that it was a good opportunity to pay the kindness forward – and find a way to do something nice for someone else that day in H’s honour.  That seemed to appease everyone.  After all, it’s Christmas.

the transit eaters

This morning, sitting on the subway on my way to work, there is a lady eating pretzels from a bag.  She looks as if she’s sitting in front of the most boring movie ever, absently bringing pretzels to her mouth, chewing listlessly, barely able to keep her eyes open.  She looks like she might be a fun person, with a great, youthful body and clothes, a mishmash of braids pulled up in a wonderfully haphazard way, and she’s got a large set of earphones on.  But nothing about her body is reacting in any way to music or anything else, other than the slow, trance-like movement of pretzel to mouth.  Every now and then her eyes droop, and I wonder if she’s about to fall asleep or if she’s blinking in slow motion along with the bored chewing of pretzel after pretzel.  She gets off at my stop and I’m actually surprised she has the energy to get upright.

I see lots of curious breakfast eating scenarios on the morning commute.  Last week there was a lady who stumbled onto the car loaded down with a number of bags.  She seemed like one of those people who always makes an entrance –always running late, always in a bit of a fluster.  We’re on a short subway line over which there are only five stations.  She gets her shopping bags situated and starts fussing around in one of them and pulls out a bag with a couple of oversized bagels.  She retrieves one of them and drops the other back into the shopping bag, and proceeds to wolf down the untoasted, unembellished bagel in three or four giant bites.  As we’re nearing the end of the line she busts out the other bagel and begins to devour that one in the same fashion.  Of course everyone has her/his own likes and dislikes, but it seems to me this meal was not intended to fulfil the pleasure aspect of eating food – only some kind of hunger.  I just don't see what kind of pleasure could be had in stuffing giant hunks of heavy, dry bread down my gullet.

There was a semi-regular rider on a morning bus I used to take, another middle-aged woman, who would gobble pita sandwiches at a speed that would shock the bagel eater.  She wore office clothing that wasn’t cheap, with coordinating jewellery and pulled together handbag and shoes – prissy looking in a June Cleaver kind of way.  Like many of her peers, she would always sit up front by the driver.  Seeing her eat her sandwiches was painful – there was something surreptitious about it as if she was disposing of evidence.   She would stuff great portions of the pita halves into her mouth in progressive bites (three bites to one mouthful), starting her next progression at the same time she was swallowing the previous.  She was an assembly line of biting, chewing and swallowing, as if she was desperate to get her consumption quota achieved before she reached her destination.

I understand what it’s like to experience a “sugar drop” in the morning and be ravenously hungry.  But it strikes me that not one of these morning eaters exhibit any sort of enjoyment of their food; and of course each one of these ladies has a different circumstance, but also each one of them was not partaking in a meal – each was just depositing food in her body and who knows what the reasons were. 

Another time a grandma came on a bus with a little girl, about one, in a stroller.  The little girl was a cute, girly little thing, with Down Syndrome.  The grandma, as one might expect, fussed over the baby continually.  But soon I became creeped out by the fact that she wouldn’t stop touching the little girl’s face and mouth, alternatively poking at it with a juice bottle and sticking cheesies in her mouth, or sometimes just rubbing her finger across the tiny lips as if to stimulate them.  The little one wasn’t that interested in any of this breakfast, and really seemed content to just look around at the other people.  And granny would take a neon orange cheesie chip and rub it along her lips until the kid finally consented to take an uninterested nibble.  It was like the grandma had some insatiable need to provide nourishment for the kid and she couldn’t keep her fingers away from the little girl's face and mouth.  Certainly it’s an understandable need and common among grandmas, but the fact that she was pushing junk food into a kid who didn’t even appear to want it, at breakfast time, is a bit twisted if you ask me.

I’m not being holier than thou.  I’m not above eating junk occasionally, or eating on the go.  In fact tonight I’m seeing an outdoor concert after work and I expect there is a “street meat” hot dog in my near future.  And my weekday breakfasts are always healthy, but most of them are consumed at my desk while I'm working.  And you can bet there's been more mindless munching in front of my television than I'd care to discuss.

But it all gets me thinking about the many and complex relationships people have with food, and the idea that often, eating is not even about food or sustenance.  I’m lucky – I appreciate good food, and do try to eat healthy, “clean” meals most of the time.  And I enjoy them.   But thinking about the transit eaters gives me a resolve to be more attentive about my meals and the way I approach them.  Like the transit eaters, I have many of my meals alone.  I have often celebrated the spiritual aspect of shared meals – maybe I’ve been dealt a reminder to make eating a mindful, celebratory practice when I’m alone too.

zen lunch

The complex of office buildings in which I work is connected by a long, windowed concourse area with a few places to buy food and a convenience store and lined with small tables and chairs.  Recently several little groupings of leather sofas and chairs were added in, and often this winter I’ve gone down and spent a late lunch hour in one of these comfortable chairs with my book and a cup of tea.

Several times over the past few weeks, a man has come to sit in the same little chair/sofa grouping as me to have his lunch.  Every day that lunch looks the same:  a sandwich, a granola bar, a pre-packaged applesauce or yogurt and a can of iced tea or pop.  All are enclosed in one flat layer in a large zip-lock bag which he lays down in front of him on the coffee table.

He’s always wearing a coat, which he never takes off.  I admire his Zen-like approach to having lunch: he sits at the front edge of the sofa seat eating methodically and fast, staring off into the space in front of him.  (It reminds me of an expressive arts teacher I had once who told us a funny story about his attempts to have his meals mindfully, to focus on the meal and nothing else.  Only, he said, it never worked, his wife could not rid herself of the habit of chatting with him while they ate, so he gave it up.)

One day the man walked over and picked up a newspaper and sat with it in his hand, but he never looked at it, he just looked off into mid-space as usual, lost in somewhere.  He makes me feel like I have some sort of attention deficit because I’m never without some combination of book, notebook, magazine and commuter paper puzzle to keep me occupied. I guess we all have our methods of escape.

Each day, after he finishes his sandwich, but before he eats the other things, the man goes to the coffee shop and buys a large coffee, which he drinks so quickly it looks painful.  If that were me downing coffee at that speed I’d be launched into caffeine overdrive – I’d feel like I was *on* speed!  And when he finishes the other items in his zip-lock bag, he holds onto the coffee cup and focuses on finishing it, reaching down every now and then to smooth out the zip-lock bag on the sofa beside him.  When he swallows down the last of the coffee he gets up and goes back to wherever he came from.

Today is different.  It’s the first time we acknowledge each other with a smile and nod as I sit down in a chair in the same little grouping.  I pull out my glasses, dunk the teabag a few times and try to engage with Nick Hornby’s latest [wonderful] novel.  After awhile though, I get distracted by the man because he seems particularly fidgety.  He fusses with his clothing as he gulps the coffee, smoothing down the sides of his hair repeatedly.  He pulls out an i-pod and fiddles with it a minute before putting on the earphones.  He sits for about five minutes, not relaxed into the sofa but still at the front edge of the seat, with the device in his hand, staring at nothing and every now and then smoothing his hair or fixing his jacket or patting the plastic bag.  Then he takes off the earphones and wraps them around the i-pod and off he goes.

I recognise it because I’ve been there many times – he's self-conscious.  Perhaps in acknowledging him I intruded on the Zen space.  When you acknowledge someone, they’re no longer alone.

I hope he wasn’t sensing my watching-without-looking-up-from-my-book-because-I-so-love-to-watch-people-and-they’re-my-favourite-thing-to-write-about.  In that sense I feel not a little guilty, horning in on his moments.  But then here I am anyway.  It’s just that we’re all so darned interesting.  But maybe next time I’ll find another spot.