The Eternal Lunch

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“The sweetness of food does not last long, but the sweetness of good words do.”
Thai Proverb

Whilst I lived in Thailand some time ago, I became very fond of a local saying taught to me by my Thai friends; I cherished it, mostly because I could observe it in action almost every day. The saying went something like this: ‘Thais eat five meals a day with snacks in between and when we are not eating, we are thinking about our next meal’, this often preceded the additional comment; ‘it’s only funny because it’s true!’ Few could blame them, Thai cuisine is truly delicious, their street snacks are legion, and legendary and their love of food is glorious, as is their sense of humor.
In the West, we have this long held notion of three-square meals per day, with the early evening meal with family being the main meal of the day. However, just as what we eat has changed over time, when we eat, and the emphasis we place on each meal has changed dramatically. For many, particularly Greeks, Romans and Mediterranean cultures, a large midday meal, followed by a nap to pass the hottest period of the day, was the normal practice.
Food historian Ivan Day told the BBC, “The whole day used to be structured much differently; people got up much earlier and they went to bed much earlier.” Making maximum use of natural light was of paramount importance.
Dinner was always the main meal, but back in the Middle Ages this would be taken during late morning. Through the centuries, as dinner kept getting pushed back later and later, (by the time gaslight was common it would replace the ‘supper’ meal) a new term was needed for the midday meal, and lunch it was to be. It should ne noted that in some cultures, the midday meal is still the most important meal of the day and is often still referred to as ‘dinner’.
Nicola Twilley on her well-researched and thoughtful website: www.ediblegeography.com , wrote that ‘whilst lunch may be the second meal of the day, it was the last of the three daily meals to rise above its snack origins to achieve that status.’
As early as 1591, the term was being used to mean a ‘thick piece, hunk or chunk’ as in a “lunch of bacon”. Twilley notes that in the 1755 edition of ‘A Dictionary of the English Language’ by Samuel Johnson, the word lunch still meant “as much food as one’s hand could hold”, suggesting it remained something of a snack, (depending on the size of one’s hand).
According to the Oxford English dictionary, the modern use of the term lunch did not appear until 1829 and it was not until the latter half of the 19th century that we were sitting down to a proper midday meal known as lunch. For the working classes this would often involve downing tools and sitting to eat something brought from home, or eating in a staff canteen on site.
The French painter Édouard Manet, (1832 – 1883) was one of the first to depict everyday, modern life in his works, and he remains a pivotal figure in the transition from Realism to Impressionism.
In 1863, Manet submitted a work to the French government for inclusion in its biannual Paris Salon, which was to house works by the most important artists of the day at the Academie des Beaux-Arts.
Artists from all over Europe submitted their pieces for consideration and a jury determined who was to eventually be selected. According to ‘Paris impérial: La vie quotidienne sous le Second Empire’, A medal from the Salon was assurance of a successful artistic career; winners were given official commissions by the French government, and were be sought out for portraits and private commissions. Since the 18th century, paintings were classified by genre, following a specific hierarchy; history paintings were ranked first, followed by the portrait, the landscape, the genre scene, and the finally, still life. The jury at the Academy of Fine Arts, was extremely conservative; looking for near-photographic works and those with an idealized realism.
In the selection of 1863, the judges managed to reject a third of all the work submitted, including pieces by artists such as Paul Cezanne, Camille Pissarro, James Abbott McNeill Whistler and of course, the work by submitted by Manet.
In an attempt to appease these spurned artists and avoid public backlash, Emperor Napoleon III hastily arranged for a separate exhibition, known as the “Salon des Refusés,” which would be held at the Palais de l’Industrie.
Napoleon’s office issued a statement, published in ‘Le Moniteur’ on 24 April 1863.: “Numerous complaints have come to the Emperor on the subject of the works of art which were refused by the jury of the Exposition. His Majesty, wishing to let the public judge the legitimacy of these complaints, has decided that the works of art which were refused should be displayed in another part of the Palace.
The journalist Emile Zola reported that more than a thousand visitors a day visited the Salon des Refusés and that in the crowded galleries where ‘the refused’ paintings were hung, the rooms were full of the laughter and ridicule of the spectators. However, this critical attention also legitimized the emerging avant-garde in painting and the Impressionists successfully exhibited their works outside the traditional Salon beginning in 1874. Subsequent Salons des Refusés were mounted in Paris in 1874, 1875, and 1886, by which time the popularity of the Paris Salon had declined, people were now more interested in Impressionism.
The work Manet submitted and was ‘refused’ he titled, Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe, (The Luncheon on the Grass) a large painting depicting two clothed men and two women, one half dressed, the other naked, having lunch on the grass in a wood. Its first showing sparked outrage, it was considered vulgar and indecent, but it also heralded a new type of painting and marked the single biggest turning point in the history of modern art.
Emile Zola saw a different painting to many in at the exhibition and describe it thus:

The Luncheon on the Grass is the greatest work of Édouard Manet, one in which he realizes the dream of all painters: to place figures of natural grandeur in a landscape. We know the power with which he vanquished this difficulty. There are some leaves, some tree trunks, and, in the background, a river in which a chemise-wearing woman bathes; in the foreground, two young men are seated across from a second woman who has just exited the water and who dries her naked skin in the open air. This nude woman has scandalized the public, who see only her in the canvas. My God! What indecency: a woman without the slightest covering between two clothed men! That has never been seen. And this belief is a gross error, for in the Louvre there are more than fifty paintings in which are found mixes of persons clothed and nude. But no one goes to the Louvre to be scandalized. The crowd has kept itself moreover from judging The Luncheon on the Grass like a veritable work of art should be judged; they see in it only some people who are having a picnic, finishing bathing, and they believed that the artist had placed an obscene intent in the disposition of the subject, while the artist had simply sought to obtain vibrant oppositions and a straightforward audience. Painters, especially Édouard Manet, who is an analytic painter, do not have this preoccupation with the subject which torments the crowd above all; the subject, for them, is merely a pretext to paint, while for the crowd, the subject alone exists. Thus, assuredly, the nude woman of The Luncheon on the Grass is only there to furnish the artist the occasion to paint a bit of flesh. That which must be seen in the painting is not a luncheon on the grass; it is the entire landscape, with its vigors and its finesses, with its foregrounds so large, so solid, and its backgrounds of a light delicateness; it is this firm modeled flesh under great spots of light, these tissues supple and strong, and particularly this delicious silhouette of a woman wearing a chemise who makes, in the background, an adorable dapple of white in the milieu of green leaves. It is, in short, this vast ensemble, full of atmosphere, this corner of nature rendered with a simplicity so just, all of this admirable page in which an artist has placed all the particular and rare elements which are in him.
Zola went on to write a fictionalized version of the painting and the controversy surrounding it in his 1886 novel L’Œuvre (The Masterpiece).
Modern painters from Monet to Picasso have painted their own versions of Manet’s painting, perhaps a dedication to one of the founding masters of their modernist movement in painting. Today, Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe by Édouard Manet sits in the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, it has an estimated value of at least $65 million dollars, a very expensive lunch indeed.

Emily Post, the American author of famous books on ‘Etiquette in Society, in Business, in Politics, and at Home’ published the first edition in 1922. In a 1945 article for Etiquette magazine she wrote, “luncheon is generally given by and for women, but it is not unusual, especially in summer places or in town on Saturday or Sunday, to include an equal number of men”.
When workers started working long distances from home with fixed jobs and long hours, they were eventually given a half hour or hour off work to eat food and build up strength for the afternoon ahead. Food stalls and chop houses began to open up near these centers for work and business to serve this new demand and lunch was soon established as part of the daily routine.
Eventually, work colleagues and friends were meeting ‘outside’ their offices or workplaces and taking their lunch at a local eatery, hotel or restaurant and notions the legends of the business lunch, power lunch or the three-martini lunch were born.

Lunch quickly became more than just a meal, it was the meal of the day where we most often ate out in public, where we forged new alliances and established social status. In New York, at the Algonquin Hotel in mid-town Manhattan, between 1919 and 1932 an ensemble group of journalists, writers, playwrights, screenwriters, actors and actresses would gather for lunch at would become known as the ‘round table’.
The group included names such as: Dorothy Parker, critic, poet, short-story writer, and screenwriter, Harold Ross, The New Yorker editor, Alexander Woollcott, critic and journalist, Tallulah Bankhead, actress, Noël Coward, playwright, Margaret Leech, writer and historian, Herman J. Mankiewicz, screenwriter and Harpo Marx, comedian and film star. Initially the group called itself “The Board” and the luncheons “Board meetings”. After being assigned a waiter named Luigi, the group re-christened itself “Luigi Board”. Finally, they became “The Vicious Circle” although “The Round Table” gained wide currency after a caricature by cartoonist Edmund Duffy of the Brooklyn Eagle portrayed the group sitting at a round table and wearing armor.
For twenty years this group would exchange stories, quips, jokes, barbed anecdotes, wisecracks, wordplay, bon mots and witticisms that, through the newspaper columns of Round Table members, were disseminated across the country, having a profound influence on society and culture in New York City and helped shape the tastes and opinions of the nation. All from a lunch time table.

In France, lunch is an institution, a major pause in the middle of the day to spend time enjoying one of life’s great pleasures, food. In France, lunch often consists of a three-course meal, is usually enjoyed with a glass of wine, and may take up to 2 hours.
Whether a bite with friends, a business meeting, a power lunch, or a moment to pause and enjoy love, life and the culinary arts; Khema in Phnom Penh has launched an extraordinary lunch time deal that is bound to exceed all of your expectations. Billed as the ‘Free Flow Lunch’, diners can choose from 10 starters, 10 main courses and half-a-dozen desserts and keep ordering off the menu until they have had their fill!
Dishes include most of their Khema favourties and signature French bistro dishes such as: Toulouse sausage and mash, Chicken Cordon Bleu, Pork Scaloppini, House-made Terrines, Chicken Liver, French Onion Soup, Mimosa Eggs, Seafood Pasta, soups, salads and more.
An incredible offer and one that everyone should get in and try whilst it lasts.

 

Written by Darren Gall

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