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Lunch, Explained

Everything you need to know, from sad desk lunches to Lunchables

Isn’t your desk pink? Mine’s pink.

Lunch. What is it?

We know it’s a meal we shovel into our faces in the middle of the day, typically hunched over a laptop or, if we’re lucky, at a restaurant. It’s also a time when good sense gets left behind for expediency, a time when it’s completely acceptable to eat sushi purchased from the same place you get your toilet paper and deodorant.

And there are a dizzying number of types. There’s early lunch — before noon — and late lunch — after 2 p.m. There are catered lunches, which on a good day means you are gifted with a midday chicken parm but are more often characterized by flaccid sandwiches, perhaps of dubious Tuscan origin, arranged on a black circular tray of despair. On the weekends, there’s brunch — a fiercely debated meal which frequently combines pancakes and alcohol. Surely brunch is not not lunch.

Still bewildered? Of course you are. Here’s everything you need to know about the most confusing, and confused, of all the meals: Lunch.

Lunch Hour

If you have an office job and they give you an actual hour to leave, congratulations. Mostly an expression that refers to the time when you’re eating your sad desk lunch (see below) while also working.

Sad Desk Lunch

This is perhaps the most universally known, loathed, and accepted workday lunch. It’s almost always a salad. You eat from your round plastic trough of mixed greens and chewy feta without ever looking down from your computer screen. Can be a “brought from home” salad in Tupperware that makes you feel good for saving money for a second before you realize you have no joy in life right now, or it can be a “salad place” salad where getting to choose your ingredients gives you the slight feeling that you have any control over your life. Can also be eaten in the “break room,” where you will bathe in a fluorescent light and breathe in the unavoidable smell of microwaved fish with a whisper of popcorn.

Brown Bag

This is a bit of a misnomer, because the type of people who are organized enough to prepare and pack their own lunches these days have long moved on from the grade-school-era brown paper bag and opt for chic carriers (some even with organizers!). It’s eaten at a desk, in a break room, or on a park bench while trying to escape a nightmare coworker who chews with their mouth open.


The envy of every kid whose mom packed a “healthy” lunch with carrots and grapes. Each quadrant of the primary color square had a different kind of nearly plastic food that you could assemble. The elementary school version of a meat and cheese board, plus CANDY!

Ladies Who Lunch

Once clad in Chanel suits, the ladies who lunch of 2018 are more likely seen in head-to-toe Lululemon. Instead of clutching pearls, they’re clutching iPhones and eating kale salads (no one in full body spandex fucks with a classic wedge anymore). Outfits and entrees aside, they still go home to brownstones and mansions — at least after their 3 p.m. Pilates class.

Lunch Lady

Literally the opposite of the above. She’s hated by kids and mocked by pop culture. We should respect her more.

Free Lunch

No such thing.

Lunch Date

You’re either deep enough in a relationship that you feel comfortable watching someone eat salad, or you’re about to be in the middle of a midday break-up.

Liquid Lunch

When you’re having a nice little restaurant lunch with a client or to celebrate something and you splurge and have a glass of sauvignon blanc and accidentally are drunk after three sips because the only thing you had before this was a yogurt, a few almonds, and a gallon of coffee. Enjoy the buzz and then order fries to sober up and finish the day. Can also be a deliberate decision to have booze instead of salad.

Power Lunch

Markets! Deals! Business! The power lunch is sadly not dead. From Midtown to Beverly Hills, you can still find booths of suit-wearing businessmen and women half looking at each other and half looking at one of the three phones they keep on them at all times in between bites of steak or sashimi. At least one man at the table will call the waitress “Sweetheart.” If you overhear that, try not to lose your lunch.


Sure, you can bring leftovers to your job and eat them during the day, but this is mainly the purview of the work from home community. Nothing pairs better with working completely horizontally with your laptop on your chest like the remains of last night’s dinner. Cold pizza? Sure! Half a thing of pad see ew? Sounds perfect. The remaining four strands of cheesy cacio e pepe that you treat yourself to actually heating up followed by a packet of beef jerky and a Persian cucumber you just bite into like a banana? Why the hell not??

“Let’s Do Lunch”

You never will. You will only email and text about doing lunch until one of you moves to another city.

Alison Leiby is a writer and comedian.