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The History of Lunch

Posted by Josh Rothman  June 29, 2012 10:52 AM

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Over at Edible Geography, Nicola Twilley talks to the culinary historians Laura Shapiro and Rebecca Federman about the history of lunch. It turns out that lunch didn't really exist until around 1850. Before then, the word "lunch" meant something like "snack"; it was only when people started working longer hours in the city that lunch became its own separate meal, with its own traditional lunch foods.

John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich.

The interview is excellent, and wide-ranging: it covers the history of peanut butter (it was a fancy lunch food, with feminine connotations, until the advent of the PBJ); the invention of the "power lunch"; and the 'problem' of unescorted women in lunchtime cafeterias. Here's Twilley and Shapiro on the connection between lunch and fast-food-style automation:

Edible Geography: Leaving ladies’ luncheons aside, lunch is set apart by being the first meal that is regularly eaten outside of the house, right?

Shapiro: Exactly, which meant it needed to be not only a low-cost and fast meal, but also reliably clean and high quality. All of those elements led to standardisation and automation.

Read the rest of the interview here.

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About brainiac Brainiac is the daily blog of the Globe's Sunday Ideas section, covering news and delights from the worlds of art, science, literature, history, design, and more. You can follow us on Twitter @GlobeIdeas.
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Leon Neyfakh is the staff writer for Ideas. Amanda Katz is the deputy Ideas editor. Stephen Heuser is the Ideas editor.

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Guest blogger Joshua Glenn is a Boston-based writer, publisher, and freelance semiotician. He was the original Brainiac blogger, and is currently editor of the blog HiLobrow, publisher of a series of Radium Age science fiction novels, and co-author/co-editor of several books, including the story collection "Significant Objects" and the kids' field guide to life "Unbored."

Guest blogger Ruth Graham is a freelance journalist in New Hampshire, and a frequent Ideas contributor. She is a former features editor for the New York Sun, and has written for publications including Slate and the Wall Street Journal.

Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.


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