We’re getting lunch all wrong –and our mental health is suffering for it

Lunch habits changed when we started buying sandwiches from supermarkets - and killed our own creati

Lunch habits changed when we started buying sandwiches from supermarkets - and killed our own creativity, says Andy Newman - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Our lunch habits have resulted in less time to eat and less time for each other - and the pre-packed sandwich is partly to blame, says Andy Newman

I'm often asked why I chose the career that I did (I'm a PR man). People assume it's something to do with the glamour of mixing with celebrities, the thrill of securing page space in newspapers and screen time for clients, or the fact that every day is completely different to the last.

All of these are factors, of course, but the best thing about my job is this: lunch.

When I first started out in this noble profession, it was unthinkable that we would waste our lunchtimes sitting in our offices. There were clients and journalists to entertain, or else colleagues to socialise with.

Lunchtime was an event, a chance to get away from the desk, enjoy some decent food (not to mention a glass or two of wine), and take a break.

I'm writing this week's column on World Mental Health Day, and amongst all of the excellent advice being given about looking after our minds as well as our bodies, I have yet to see anyone mention one factor which I (quite seriously) believe has had a huge negative effect on the wellbeing of our workplaces: the demise of lunch.

There are all sorts of reasons for this.

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Partly it's to do with the expectation that we should be giving every waking hour to our employers, and that breaks are somehow for wimps.

Partly it's down to the culture of being 'always available' which has grown out of our slavery to mobile devices. Whatever it is, the disappearance of a proper lunch break from the working day is tragic. That change was first made possible by the proliferation in the early 1990s of those evil triangular boxes containing the ready-made sandwich.

Few inventions have robbed us of so much time, freedom and money.

Staggeringly, as a nation we spend over £8 billion on pre-made sandwiches every year. That figure would keep the NHS going for the best part of a month; it would fund the entire Police force in England; it would be enough to give everybody who used a foodbank last year enough to feed their families for the entire year, by some margin.

How much do you think you could make a basic sandwich for at home? Considerably less than the £2.14 average that we pay for someone else to make it for us. And it's hardly a cordon-bleu task.

Anyone can put some spread on a couple of slices of bread and insert the filling of their choice in two minutes flat.

This is one area where lack of time isn't an excuse – it's just pure laziness.

A recent survey revealed how our tastes have changed when it comes to what we want in our sandwiches, and we have come a long way from the simplicity of the ham salad and egg mayonnaise which topped the sandwich charts in the 1970s.

Apparently our favourite sandwich filling nowadays is hummus and falafel. Now far be it for me to suggest that a PR-driven poll has been skewed to achieve headlines, but can that be right?

I can believe that pulled pork or chicken and avocado (also both in the current top five) are evidence of our evolving tastes, but is hummus and falafel really the best-selling sandwich in 2018? If so, it's a mad world.

Whatever bizarre combinations are being put between the slices of over-refrigerated 'bread' in our pre-packed sandwiches, the point remains that each of the four billion sandwiches we buy every year represents a lost opportunity to stop and take a proper lunch.

An opportunity to take a break from work, to socialise (loneliness being another of the growing causes of mental health problems), and also a chance to support our struggling local independent restaurants and cafes. The days of the boozy two hour business lunch may be numbered (sadly), but even a cheap, simple lunch with friends remains one of life's great pleasures.

If you made your own sandwiches at home four days a week, you could use the money you saved to go out and have a proper lunch on the fifth day.

Whether you are in a job like mine that entails the occasional blow-out lunch, or whether you are not so lucky, the one thing we can all do is ensure we take a lunch break, eat our lunch away from our workplace, and ensure that lunchtime becomes a crucial part of our wellbeing, whatever we choose to eat.