I have recently started a new job at a non-profit organization that addresses food access and nutrition education in public schools. As I was sitting in the orientation, learning more and more about the position, I happened to fall upon a piece of information that will change my life and overall well-being.
“All employees have the opportunity to take an one hour paid lunch,” said the Human Resources Manager.
Um, excuse me?
It may seem like a trivial bout of utter confusion, but this is new to me. Let’s be clear, I have worked in food services since the age of 15 and I have never experienced such a privilege. There were certain instances where I wouldn’t have a lunch at all. An hour paid lunch is not common. The rule of thumb is for every 5 hours worked, an employee is required to take a 30 minute, unpaid lunch. An hour paid lunch is a luxury, an amenity, and a bonus. However, it got me thinking. Why have 30 minute unpaid lunches become so standardized? I am pretty sure they have numerous adverse reactions. Also, Europe is the leader of long lunches, why haven’t Americans obliged?
The way we see lunch during the workday may have its roots in urbanization. During the height of the industrial revolution, many workers’ lives revolved around work and lunch was simply squeezed in. Lunch breaks were meant to be quick, small, cheap, and meager according to food historian Laura Shapiro who curated an exhibit all about it at The New York City Public Library. Workers could eat their small meal, and head back to work. Time is money and eating lunch takes away time from work, therefore, you will not get paid for that “time off.” At the turn of the 20th century, it morphed into a defined form of labor practice and the rest is history.
Let’s compare it to a country that historically spends more time having lunch. France.
According to food expert, Jean-Pierre Corbeau, lunch is simply taken more seriously in France. He even went as far as saying that it has become a sacred ritual within their culture. France also has a bigger meal during lunch that could not possibly be completely eaten in 30 minutes. When there is wine, and an after-lunch coffee involved, there is no way! The French are just known for savoring their food and time. This explains their 35-hour work week and reduced levels of stress compared to other countries.
I would move to France in a heartbeat.
It has been four months at this new job and I am loving my hour, paid lunch. Not only can I enjoy my meal, I also have time to socialize, go for a walk, go shopping, pick up a prescription, or even just nap. I feel less stressed at work because of it. I look forward to lunch time because I know it will be a splendid time. Americans work too hard and I wish more organizations and employers will engage in healthier lunch break policies. I have found myself eating with one hand and typing with the other at times, but that is due to habit. I have been working and eating simultaneously for so long that It has become muscle memory. As I am writing this piece, I am thinking about lunch and the free time I will have. I hope to not seem righteous and vain, but I just want people to know that an hour paid lunch will change your life and I am eternally grateful. I am pretty sure that single mother of two (or anyone) would greatly enjoy an hour paid lunch where it could be the only free time that person has.