Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Is it time for lunch yet?

He commuted there every morning in a boat rowed by two oarsmen, had his dinner (what we would now call lunch) in a house on Sollers Point, and in the evening was rowed back to the nearby mainland ...
Michael Korda, Clouds of Glory: The Life and Legend of Robert E. Lee

His mind was occupied with business matters, although he was fighting sleepiness from eating a substantial noontime dinner of pork chops, fried chicken, succotash, candied yams, stewed beets, green onions in vinegar, and hot buttered corn muffins.
Jack Matthews, The Gambler's Nephew

Breakfast, lunch or dinner?
I was sitting in a local restaurant about to start lunch one afternoon last week when I overheard the waitress say to the man at the next table, "Are you here for breakfast?"

That, plus the two lines above found in my recent reading has gotten me thinking about what we call the meals we eat. At one time people lucky enough to get three meals a day ate breakfast, dinner and supper. In rural communities in particular, the custom was to serve the biggest meal at noon, and that was called dinner. Michael Korda's biography of Robert E. Lee and the novel by Jack Matthews both describe terminology common in the middle of the 19th century. My rural 20th century parents called their noon meal dinner throughout their lives. When I went to school and later to work in the city, I got a lunch hour each day, and I began to think of the evening meal as dinner, not supper. This is not the case on Sundays and holidays, however, when my biggest meal usually comes in midday. Two weeks ago I ate Thanksgiving dinner at noon and had a light supper around 6 or 7.

Since my youth, terms for meals seem to have gotten more confusing in other ways. Take brunch, for example, a term popular with those who like to sleep in, especially on Sundays, or who want to skip breakfast but don't want to wait for lunch. In restaurants, however, brunch may be served until 2 p.m. or later, well after my usual lunch time.

Our words for our meals don't necessarily refer to the time of day, because that other man in the restaurant wanted breakfast at the same time I wanted lunch (and my father would have wanted dinner and somebody else might want brunch).

Nor do they necessarily refer to the kind of food being served. We associate eggs, bacon and pancakes with breakfast, but many of us like eggs, bacon and pancakes at other meals. I, in fact, am thinking about having pancakes, bacon and eggs today for lunch, even though I ate eggs and a biscuit for breakfast. We tend to associate home fries and hash browns with breakfast, french fries with lunch and baked or mashed potatoes with dinner, but there is plenty of variation on when people eat all kinds of potatoes. Some people like steak for breakfast, though when I have steak, unless it's in a sandwich, it had better be dinner.

Meanwhile people today work, sleep and eat at all hours. How can they keep straight which meal is breakfast, which is lunch and which is dinner? Here in Florida a lot of senior citizens are having dinner at around 4 in the afternoon, when some younger people are still having lunch (or breakfast). But is it even necessary that each meal have a name? Perhaps we will eventually get to the point where a meal is just meal and restaurants will serve you whatever you feel like whatever the time of day.

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