When Hunger Strikes: The Evolution of the NYC Lunch

The New York Public Library is exhibiting a bit of dining nostalgia that highlights the one meal that fosters an accessible form of eating out--lunch. Because workers on every level need the necessary energy pick-me-up, the lunch hour still remains the one time that you can dine together with your "work family" for an allotted amount of time. It's defined by speed, cost and efficiency, as reflected in the several lunch deals peppered throughout the city and the vendors who come to satiate hungry employees. The newest exhibit at the NYPL is Lunch Hour NYCa fantastic showcase of the evolution of the lunch meal over 100 years. From the quick lunch to old school vending machines, the exhibit encourages viewers to be leisurely with their time and take an interactive walk-through.

Lunch is the one meal our culture now replaces with a trendy accessibility of food trucks which exist to serve one of many purposes: feed the hungry masses in the quickest way possible. Their hours are dictated by the traditional workday, as many vendors park on busy streets and corners awaiting the rush that begins at 11:30. The fact that the library has curated this exhibit is quite symbolic seeing as the location in Bryant Park and midtown is arguably the economic hub of New York City. The timeliness of the exhibit reflects the rise in "back to basics" and the old-school style of dining that is now making a mainstream comeback. Whether you work in a cubicle in Queens or spend the workday trading on Wall Street, we all need to eat. Eating lunch has become not only necessary for an efficient work day but represents the communal break for workers. The planning and strategy it takes to pull off a "successful" lunch has been embedded in our society for centuries. The relegation of the vending machine is no longer satisfying as a proper lunch (but a snack) and instead, the "quick lunch" is dictated by food vendors, $2 pizza slices and lunch pre-fixe menus, for those who have the luxury of taking long lunch breaks.

Perhaps the exhibit highlights what George Foster best sums up as the uniqueness of a bustling New York City lifestyle. “Every thing is done differently in New York from anywhere else—but in eating the difference is more striking than in any other branch of human economy.”

Walk through Lunch Hour NYC in the Stephen A. Schwarzman building now through February 2013.

Photos: Courtesy of the NY Public Library