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Phil Mellows is a freelance journalist living in Brighton  

 


         The politics of drinking
            
June 15, 2010


 

 

The politics of lunch

Iím in mourning. Drinkaware, the industry campaign to educate us into drinking more sensibly, today announced the death of lunch. Or at least what it calls the Ďboozy lunchí, to my mind a slanderous term if they mean popping out to the pub for a pie and a pint in the middle of the day. You can do that without getting the slightest bit drunk, though there seems to be no recognition of that possibility.

Much of my life has been organised around going to the pub for lunch. At the hinge of the day lunch is a pause, a respite, a restorative. It is a stopping of the clocks that rule our working lives. It deserves to be done properly. And properly means for me a slow, quiet pint of beer in the bolthole of a pub.

In a brilliant essay titled Passage to Play* the American sociologist Joseph Gusfield argues that in relation to work the drinking occasion is a vital and meaningful Ďtime outí. It helps define our humanity.

And we are losing one of those drinking occasions. Drinkaware says this is because people are more health conscious, that lifestyles are changing, that itís become socially unacceptable to go back to work drunk.

Iím not sure it ever was acceptable to be drunk at work. And Iím talking about a pint of beer here, soaked up by some food. Is that unacceptable?

There is something more sinister going on here. People are working longer hours. Lunch breaks are being chipped away at by pressure of work, by increasingly demanding employers.

A survey in 2007 showed that British workers took less than two hours a week for lunch. Even the European Working Time Directive says you should take at least a half-hour break in the middle of the day. The decline of lunch is an unhealthy trend.

Mitchells & Butlers, the pub company, launched a Campaign for Real Lunch a few years ago. Itís a pity it was only a promotional gimmick.

Lunch is a right, a necessity of life. You donít have to spend it in the pub, but I happen to think itís the best place for it. Going to the gym is surely just another species of work.

And by saving lunch, we can also help save the pub. We should take it seriously.

 

*In Contested Meanings: The Construction of Alcohol Problems. You can read most of the essay here


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