This past summer I drove to North Carolina to visit my old friend Robbie. Her husband Phil passed away last September, and she needed a hand in going through some of his papers. She and Phil were like parents to me when I lived in Durham, and I was happy to help. Always a wonderful hostess, during my visit Robbie made me the most colorful salad I have ever eaten. Green lettuce, cherry tomatoes, peaches, blueberries, white onions and grilled chicken, all drizzled with honey. It was a masterpiece.
I thought, “I wish my mother could see this.” She loves it when people feed her children well. In fact, anyone reading this could make her very happy by inviting me to dinner. I’m free pretty much any night through 2019. Seriously, I’m only thinking of my mother’s happiness.
Anyway, as I was about to plunge my fork into the technicolor fiesta, it occurred to me that I really could let my mother see it. I went downstairs to get my camera, came back up to snap the photo and then enjoyed my lunch. I had some more travels after my visit with Robbie, so I was two weeks getting back home to Georgia. That’s when I went to the drug store and printed off the pictures I had taken on the road. Mom was glad to see the salad, and I thought, “That was awfully clever of me. Who would ever think to document such a great meal?”
Well, I had no idea that photo-bragging about your lunch is actually the latest trend. Of course, when I announce something as “the latest trend,” that generally means it was brand new in 2006. In my defense, I don’t always get good radio reception, so it’s hard to keep up with what’s going on in the world. Anyway, it turns out that over 80,000 people per day share snapshots of their lunch. And they don’t have to bother with the corner drugstore. Instead they publish their photos instantly on social media. From Hollywood celebrities and five-star chefs to Judy who works in payroll, everyone seems to want in on this new food-posting fad.
Of course, the assumption that other people care what you are having for lunch every day was once the standard reason to mock Facebook or Twitter. A few years ago, I myself could be overheard dismissing social media as a silly ego trip. I thought, “Who wants to read about someone else’s breakfast?” Now looking back, I think of those early days of lunch tweets with nostalgia. At least people were reading back then, even if it was only to learn that Lisa had just eaten all her french fries except for the soggy one at the bottom.
But that golden age of lunch literacy is fast disappearing. More and more, the image trumps the word. Few people even have time to eat lunch anymore, much less read about it. According to a recent article in Parade magazine, only one in five employees in America takes a traditional lunch break, and many multitask at their desks while scarfing down Greek yogurt. So even a little leisure reading about, say, Larry’s bowl of warmed-over lentil hash is not an option. These days, the best that lunch tweeters can hope for from their adoring but harried public is a quick glance at a photo. A picture — in this economy, it seems — is now worth 140 characters.
The result was inevitable, I guess. Because all these food flaunters have to work harder to get attention in this blog-eat-blog world, now they’re going to new lengths to stage their lunches. The race is on to see who can have the best, most creative, most appetizing or healthiest noonday fare. And no one dominates this category like the Mommy Bloggers.
Proud parents used to just put bumper stickers on the minivan boasting “My child is an honor student.” But Lisa Leake of Matthews, North Carolina, represents a new breed of supermoms, whose kids are pawns in the lunchroom wars. Leake runs a blog called 100daysofrealfood.com, where she posts daily updates of the unprocessed foods her children are having for lunch. One typical photo — dramatically staged with special lighting on a wooden picnic table — made the cover of Parade. It shows a pink lunchbox with the following menu: three apple slices, five blueberries in dipping sauce, ten green peas, a handful of nuts and grains, seven rigatoni noodles, a three-inch-square mini-salad with chopped feta, a cup of unsalted popcorn and two carrot-applesauce muffins.
Bless the poor Leake children. It’s going to be a long 100 days, and not a chicken nugget in sight. It’s just a good thing social media wasn’t around when Mom was packing my Pigs in Space lunchbox circa 1980. With the PB&J on wheat, dozen Town House Crackers, six Keebler Fudge Stripe cookies, and plastic thermos of whole milk, we would not have made the cover of Parade. But don’t feel sorry for me. Just check your calendar to see when I can come over to eat. I’ll bring the chopped feta.