Lunch as a Feminist Act

This article about lunch as an urban invention is really fascinating. Oysters used to be street food! Apples for lunch in the Great Depression! But there were also all these interesting gendered and classed requirements surrounding what people had for lunch.  For instance: there were all sorts of social distinctions tied up in the way you were supposed to slice bread before sliced bread — thick with crusts for workers, as thin as possible for ladies — and what went on it.

"Edible Geography: Were there buttering instructions too?

Laura Shapiro: Certainly — butter had to go all the way to the edges, and so on. But the interesting thing is peanut butter, which was introduced as a high-end spread for bread. Even though it was cheap, it had a kind of ladylike aura about it, and so ladies’ lunches would feature perfectly sliced, hair-thin bread, spread with butter and crushed peanut butter — you would grind your own peanuts and mix them with something to make it more spreadable. Peanut butter and celery, peanut butter club, peanut butter salad — even peanut butter and nasturtium!

Rebecca Federman: I have a friend who still has peanut butter with butter. It’s good.

Shapiro: Jelly didn’t come later, until peanut butter filtered down to become children’s food — and then that was it. The ladylike recipes, with nasturtiums and so on, disappear completely.”

Where you ate lunch also mattered. The whole point of lunch — at least, of lunch in New York — was that it was as quick as possible. When women started being more of a presence in the workforce and started eating lunch in public instead of at home as a result, it was scandalous, because of course women couldn’t be anywhere that was even a little bustling due to having delicate constitutions and needing somewhere to put their oversized hats, or something. As a result, eating lunch in public became sort of a feminist act:

"The first women’s club in America began meeting over lunch in New York in 1868. They met at Delmonico’s because, like most fancy restaurants at the time, Delmonico’s did not allow women in unescorted for lunch. So they just walked in and sat down, and that was the start of the womens’ club movement. It wasn’t the suffrage movement by a long shot, but it was an example of women standing up for themselves and expanding their lives.

They liberated Delmonico’s in 1868, but it took 101 years before they liberated the Plaza Hotel. In 1969, Betty Friedan led a group of women to lunch in the Oak Room at the Plaza, where they still did not serve women who were not escorted by men. They sat there for two hours and the waiters wouldn’t go near them. The Plaza changed their policy within a few months, but they would not serve Betty Friedan that day.”

Which is neat. 

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