Time for Lunch

Julia Pistell - Hartford, Connecticut
As heard on The Bob Edwards Show, August 5, 2011
Julia Pistell
Photo by Laura Dee Photography

Marketing assistant Julia Pistell says the lunch hour shouldn’t just be about food. She believes it’s an excellent opportunity to enrich our daily lives by exploring the world around us, getting to know new people, or offering ourselves a restful break.

Age Group: 18 - 30
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I believe in lunch breaks.

As a twenty-seven-year-old dreamer, I’ve already surpassed the average number of jobs an American has in a lifetime. I’m convinced that lunch breaks are the best way to maintain a sense of privacy, adventure, and self-worth in our work-obsessed culture. So I vow to always have lunch.

A history of my lunches: at school in a Jersey suburb, my friends discussed what to study, who to fall in love with, where to go to college, how to scramble to finish a theorem. For thirteen years, much of my joy and comfort and sorrow came from those measly twenty minutes. As I grew up and explored the world, lunch only became more essential. In Ghana, I gossiped with hairdressers; in China, I copied new words from menus; in Manhattan, before selling expensive clothes around Christmas, I bent over cups of cheap coffee to tell myself I was still humble.

For one year, I wrote a letter to a boy I loved in London and mailed it at the end of the meal. Those letters—a reckoning of who I was and what I wanted, where I was, and where I wanted to go—are a better record of my life than any journal. I have only lunch to thank.

Many unhappy people I know tend to say: “I just eat at my desk. I don’t have time to do anything but work.” I believe that I should never be too busy or overwhelmed to devote one hour of the day to trying something new. Do not mourn lunches lost: if you were nearby I’d take you exploring, for new friends are a great use of an hour.

Lunch evens the scales: it balances the working self with other identities. When I was a community college tutor I used lunch breaks to study. When I was a waitress, I snuck home to my apartment to lie down in silence. Because of this time alone I always believed that life was much larger than 9 to 5, and any hour of the day could be the best hour.

This year I’m a marketing assistant for the Mark Twain House in Connecticut. I still take a lunch break. Always. I have used many lunches to tame and foster feral kittens. I’ve read comics. I’ve wandered the dilapidated neighborhood.

Once, the director of my museum ran into me while I was sampling unusual varieties of iced tea. We sat together, telling jokes. I’ve found that by establishing a precedent for lunch, my bosses always treat me more like a human being. They know I love work, but I love lunch more.

I believe that breakfast is too optimistic and dinner is too pretentious. Lunch is who you really are.

Julia Pistell works at the Mark Twain House in Hartford, Connecticut. She is a professional improvisational actor with Sea Tea Improv, a recipient of a Writers Fellowship from the Greater Hartford Arts Council, and a graduate of Bennington College’s Nonfiction MFA Program. Pistell’s laugh can be heard for miles.