Thursday, September 25, 2003

previous entry | main | next entry | TrackBack (0)

An ode to lunch

The Chicago Weekly, an independent student paper that appears to have no online home, asked me to write a small essay for the returning students. So, reprinted here, is my ode to the leisurely lunch:

New York Times columnist David Brooks (U of C, class of 1983) has penned several essays in recent years arguing that the current generation of college students is unique in its preference for jam-packed schedules. Every minute of the day is accounted for with classes and extracurricular activities. As a professor, it would be the height of churlishness to complain about such industrious habits. However, as the school year starts, let me plead my case for the leisurely lunch.

I’ve actually held jobs outside of the academy, and the thing I found most dispiriting about them was the predilection for eating alone at one’s desk, the meal completed in under half an hour. To be sure, sometimes work makes that necessary. However, many people do this out of habit, or to give off the impression that they are such workaholics that they never have time for a real meal.

At an institution where great respect is conferred on those willing to study twenty hours a day, U of C students can fall into a similar trap of discarding lunch for more study time. To which I say, feh. No one is so busy that they can’t devote an hour to a social meal a few times a week.

Why bother with such an indulgence? Because it is not only an indulgence. Lunch at the U of C is an opportunity to share with others what you have been reading or discussing in class, and for your friends to reciprocate. If your fields of study are different, all the better. The cross-pollination of ideas is an important mechanism through which the humanities and the sciences make advances in knowledge. Lunching with one’s classmates can help the undergraduate develop a sense of perspective about their studies.

If this makes a long midday meal sound like an obligation, consider this reason: lingering at lunch permits the mind to relax as well as work. University study is not a wind sprint, it’s a multiyear intellectual marathon. The students who thrive are the ones smart enough to pace themselves. Letting one’s mind wander playfully at the noon hour is excellent preparation for the mental rigors that are sure to come in the post-meridian hours. The mind at play is often able to generate the counterintuitive ideas that would never occur otherwise. Nine out of ten of these ideas will turn out to be rubbish, but the ones that stick are special. Many a professor, myself included, will acknowledge that some of their most original ideas came not while staring at a computer monitor or at a blackboard, but while munching on a superior deli sandwich with friendly colleagues.

If none of these reasons tempt you, there’s always the obvious: with any leisurely lunch, dessert is sure to follow.

[Yeah, but do you practice what you preach?--ed. In fact, this very day I had an exquisite lunch at a lovely restaurant in the Loop with two esteemed colleagues, one of whom blogs at some conspiracy site. Though in this case, it was a last blast before classes start.]

One final thing -- the two other profs who contributed were Martha Nussbaum and James Heckman.

Bloggers are definitely moving up in the world.

posted by Dan on 09.25.03 at 05:21 PM


Not one of those evil statisticians who's developed a new statistical techinique (or six)! A pox on our discipline! Oh, wait, he's an economist, never mind. ;-)

(You can tell you're an academic bigshot when you have a statistical model named after you. Plus the Heckman selection model is just a cool model to use when you have nested decision-making, like voted/did not vote and vote choice. But I digress in my hero-worship.)

posted by: Chris Lawrence on 09.25.03 at 05:21 PM [permalink]

Professors -- they really don't get it, do they? =)

Let's just say that relaxing when you've got a full night of reading and outlining ahead of you is easier said than done, Dan.

On a related, slightly contrarian note, do professors think it's productive or healthy essentially to force students, if they wish to keep abreast of the material and keep that 4.0 intact, to devote over half their day (counting sleep) to study? If so, thank God I'm at a state school rather than Chicago!

posted by: nate on 09.25.03 at 05:21 PM [permalink]

By these standards you may have to revisit your recent comments on the EU. I can tell you from experience that whatever problems they may have, a lack of leisurely lunches is not one of them!

posted by: Erik on 09.25.03 at 05:21 PM [permalink]

But, Dan - if I stop eating lunch in my cube, I won't have time to read your blog! And if we all stop reading your blog at lunch, what will happen to all the mad blogbucks you're raking in?

Oh, right, never mind...

posted by: George on 09.25.03 at 05:21 PM [permalink]


Curses!! Now I'll never be able to afford Park Place!!

posted by: Dan on 09.25.03 at 05:21 PM [permalink]

Wonderful idea, Professor. Grab some students who need to be reminded of the value of a relaxing lunch. Expense account it.

posted by: Amanda Butler on 09.25.03 at 05:21 PM [permalink]

A leisurely lunch is OK, but it really does detract from the schedule of the day.

Much better to reallocate that time to a social dinner. The staccato punch of task and class is gone and now a leisurely hour with some friends, a glass of beer or wine and that same deferred conversation is so much more relaxing. With an added double-expresso chaser, a good prime for the deeper thinking of the evening study to come.

Or you can try my vintage recipe, UC Spring ’76 – Light breakfast 6 am, be sure to comment on the beautiful sunrise. Immediately after – straight to bed. Alarm clock wakes you at 2pm and on straight to the showers, dress and a quick lunch of non-perishables in the quiet of your room. Check & organize study schedule, down on the field at 3pm for softball. 4:30 shower and shave, followed by a solid dinner and you’re at Regenstein by 5:30, 6 at the latest. A solid, uninterrupted 6 hour dive into your favorite subjects (no slacking). Back at the dorm by 12:15am at the latest. Judicious exercise of one of the following two options: A) Join the party rolling to somewhere B) Continue study until 2 am curfew, then find the party (half the fun; oh, the stories I could tell) or make your own. From wherever, back on campus by 5:30 am. Light breakfast 6am, be sure to comment on the beautiful sunrise…

Of course it does require careful selection of professors and course work to pull this off – math and physics courses highly recommended. It’s efficient. It’s effective. It’s stress-reducing. It was one hell of a good time. Highly recommended for those who want to be all that they can be.

posted by: Jon on 09.25.03 at 05:21 PM [permalink]

Post a Comment:


Email Address:



Remember your info?