Learning to Appreciate the Sad Desk Lunch

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So many of us have been there: the sad desk lunch. Sitting in your cubicle, tapping out emails to your boss, feeling harassed by the hot breath of deadlines and your endless to-do list, and eating … oof, what is that, anyway? Last week’s leftover salmon loaf (cold), parts of it stuck to the tinfoil you hastily wrapped it in? A salad of wilted leaves drowning in coagulated dressing? The other half of the turkey sandwich you weren’t so into when you ate the first half — which was … uh … when was it, again?

According to the tagline on the website Sad Desk Lunch, which shares images of prime sad specimens, 62 percent of American office workers usually eat their lunch in the same spot where they work all day.

The site’s collection of photos (which hasn’t been updated in a while — perhaps the stirred-up existential angst took its toll?) is funny — and also deeply tragic. “One of the engineers I work with saw it and said ‘I feel one step closer to death just looking at that,’” reads the caption underneath an image of two half-eaten slices of toast with … is that cheese? — and a possibly not-so-fresh section of yellow pepper.

You’d think it was a sign of the times, but in fact it may simply be a product of our culture. Because guess what? In some parts of the world, the sad desk lunch is essentially verboten.

“In Germany, lunch with colleagues is a very big deal,” notes writer Jesse Singal in New York Magazine.

“I would go so far as to say that a desk lunch is not even an option,” a former colleague of Singal, with whom he worked in Germany, told him. “There is just no way you would ever do this because it’s NOT DONE. Definitely had to go to the cafeteria every day … no one ate at their desks.”

Singal allows that these office-sanctioned (or possibly required) lunches may feel somewhat “regimented,” with everyone vamoosing from the office and eating at nearly precisely the same time (12 noon, plus or minus half an hour). Salad eating is frowned upon. Talking about work matters? “Taboo,” another former colleague observed, adding that most conversation revolved around upcoming vacations (remember those?).

Yet, Singal muses, it’s hard to know if these required collegial lunches, where you’re not even allowed to talk about anything productive, sound preferable to a sad desk lunch or not. “Sure, the first couple of days it might be fun to go eat with colleagues — but every day?” he wonders.

That’s an excellent point — and one that may make you feel a little better about opening up that Tupperware container and digging into whatever past-its-prime meal you’re about to enjoy with one hand while maneuvering your mouse with the other.

Photo: iStock