By Mordechai Schmutter
You know what I noticed? No one does lunch anymore. Sure, they eat lunch. But they don’t do lunch. Eating lunch means eating, which, unless you have a five-course meal featuring cholent, takes about five minutes of concentrated chewing. Doing lunch mostly involves talking, and if your mother ever got through to you, you don’t do this while chewing, so you alternate between one and the other, and lunch takes longer.
So it’s not surprising that, according to a study by Right Management (a human-resources consulting firm), 65% of American workers eat lunch at their desks or don’t take a break at all. We tend to inhale our sandwiches, holding them in one hand, with both a thumb and pinky underneath so it doesn’t droop, and an important piece of paper in the other hand. Like an animal. (Animals eat at their desks, apparently.) The study didn’t say if this was a good thing or a bad thing, but it did imply that this wasn’t great.
Of course, these numbers are somewhat off when you realize that not everyone has a desk job, but I assume this goes for wherever people work. Pilots eat while flying (if you consider airline meals “eating”), constructions workers eat on girders 50 stories up, and chefs don’t exactly close up shop and go to a different restaurant for lunch. (“Yeah, let the lunch crowd cook for themselves. I don’t eat here.”) And, I assume, surgeons eat in operating rooms. After all, they already washed their hands, and even the room is sterile.
I can relate as well. I use papers from my printer as placemats, so I can eat anything—fleishig or milchig—at my desk. And as I write this article, I’m drinking a coffee. The coffee was too hot when I started working, and by the time I remembered it was here, it was too cold.
But it’s very convenient to eat at my desk, because I’m at my desk, and it’s right there. Some of the other things I do at my desk include:
• Brushing my teeth
• Minor podiatry
• Facial-hair maintenance
• Child discipline
Actually, looking at this list, it’s a good thing I work at home. Meanwhile, my wife works mostly at the dining-room table. So where is she supposed to eat? My desk?
So I can personally vouch for the eating-at-the-desk thing—not just because I do it, but because I’m a high-school teacher, and my students do it. (Although the study doesn’t say anything about hiding it and pretending you’re not eating.)
Of course, my students eat at their desks because there are much better things to do during lunchtime than eat lunch, such as play basketball or take a nap. Or walk to the store, or see how far they can walk in one direction before they have to turn around to be back in time for Minchah. So once they get back to class, they have a lot of choices. Here are the results of my study:
Eating at desk – 44%
Sleeping at desk – 10%
Eating while sleeping – 20%
Playing basketball at desk – 15%
Walking to store – 10%
Paying attention (while eating) – 1%
So when does everyone learn the material?
They figure, “Eh, I can learn the stuff during the test. Because seriously, why do we have to learn it all right now if we’re going to have to learn it again for the test? We might as well do it then and get it all done at once, as opposed to in tiny installments 20 minutes a day.”
But my point is that eating at a desk is something you learn in school. When you grow up, you’re just happy you don’t have to sneak it anymore. Unless it’s something fattening and you work at home with your wife in the dining room. Or if your kids are home for the summer and you don’t want them to know you’re eating, because then they’re all going to want some, and they’re going to eat it standing around your desk, and by the time they’re done, it’s going to feel like you’re working in a sandbox.
But of course, as with anything else, eating at your desk has pros and cons:
Pro: You don’t have to take a break. The world is moving so fast nowadays, and if all your competitors don’t break for lunch, neither can you. And if they do break for lunch, then maybe your advantage will be that you don’t break for lunch. And the last thing you want to do is call them and work this out, because you definitely don’t want to give them any ideas. But you definitely need to be more productive, and the way to do that is to eat with one hand and get crumbs in the keyboard.
Con: You don’t get a break. Experts say that taking a break is actually good for productivity, which is why some people, it seems, never stop taking breaks. If they ever do get back to work someday, they’ll be so productive you won’t even believe it. So the breaks do have to be measured. But you would not believe how many of my weekly articles are conceived by my stressing in front of the computer for six days, and then walking away for five minutes and having a topic magically appear in my brain. You’d think I’d learn. After all, most of my articles are about living life, not sitting in front of a computer (with the possible exception of this one). But the next week I spend six days stressing in front of the computer again.
Pro: It’s good for your health. Take the case of the truck driver in Pennsylvania who, according to an AP article, “was eating an apple as he drove on a busy highway in Reading.” (Clarification: This refers to a town in PA called “Reading.” He was not actually reading while eating an apple and driving a truck. Though it would not have been surprising.) But at some point, a piece of the apple went down wrong, and he began choking.
What do you do if you’re choking, chas v’shalom? Ideally, someone will get behind you and perform the Heimlich maneuver on you. But that wasn’t really an option, because (a) he was driving a truck down a busy highway, and (b) it’s illegal to pick up hitchhikers. So what he did was he lost consciousness and crashed through the median. But as he crashed, his chest smacked into the steering wheel, which effectively did the Heimlich, and the apple was dislodged.
So we see that eating at your place of work could actually save your life, especially if you work over something that can give you the Heimlich, such as a steering wheel, a pilot’s stick, a computer keyboard, or an open patient.
Con: It might actually be healthier to get exercise, even at the risk of being away from things that you can smack against your chest. Experts say that sitting in one position for too long can take a toll on your body, which is why you sometimes see pilots roaming around the cabin.
Maybe take a lesson from my students, and run around every five minutes, no matter how many times people ask you to stay seated. (“Um, I have to get a napkin.” “You don’t even use a napkin at home. Sit back down.”) Or, instead of eating lunch during your lunch break, you can go for a run. Then come back and eat at your desk at some random point in the afternoon near your nice, safe keyboard.
The truth is that experts were always saying this, and there are lists you can find of exercises that you can do at your desk, without getting up! Isn’t that convenient?
You’re not supposed to eat at your desk, but exercising is okay. For example, there is something called chair squats, which is when you get up from your chair but stay hovered over it for a few seconds, then sit back down and do it again. I have a wheelie chair, so the first time I tried that, the chair rolled away. Another thing they say to do is tap your foot all day, to keep blood flowing.
In fact, come to think of it, there are very few things on this list that won’t drive your co-workers crazy.
“Who keeps tapping?”
“Muh. Ungh efferfyfin.”
“Wait. Are you talking with your mouth full?” v
Mordechai Schmutter is a weekly humor columnist for Hamodia and is the author of four books, published by Israel Book Shop. He also does freelance writing for hire. You can send any questions, comments, or ideas to MSchmutter@gmail.com.