It is so much a part of our lives, but has anyone ever really thought about it?
This midday meal has a history, and the New York Public Library is currently exhibiting Lunch Hour NYC discussing this very unique New York City phenomenon.
It was probably one of the most interesting exhibits I've ever seen...
I read about it a few days ago on one of my favorite blogs, I Love Old NY, and I immediately made plans to go later that day.
First of all, I love the elegant NYPL building on 42nd and 5th Avenue. The place is dripping with ornamentation in classic Beaux-Arts style... When I walk in, I feel as if I'm entering into a palace.
In a nutshell, the exhibit begins by explaining that historically, the largest meal of the day was eaten at midday and called dinner. This was the case in Europe, as well as in America, for centuries. However, when business, commerce and manufacturing took off in New York City at the start of the 20th century, people no longer had time to take a lengthy midday break, and instead would eat a smaller meal. This became known as lunch.
Throughout the past century, lunchtime has taken on a unique role in New York City, more so than in any other part of the world.
Hot Dog stands.
Each of these food items became famous in NYC, and Lunch Hour NYC traces them through the century and describes their significance. (Kinda cool, no? I never knew food could have so much of a history!).
My favorite part of the exhibit was the part about the Automat, a very unique self-service food apparatus:
You basically put a coin in a slot and then opened a door that held a single serving of the food you desired.
Automats were all over the city from the 1920s-1940s. They started closing in the 1950s when labor and food costs began to rise, making it difficult for Automat proprietors to maintain their commitment to fresh, elegant and cheap food. The last Automat closed in 1992.
I left the exhibit quite hungry... after all, I had just spent an hour looking at nothing but food!
There is so much to see in this exhibit and I highly recommend it. Make a day trip out of it and visit the Children's Center and Bryant Park while you're there.
If you can't make it to the exhibit, there is loads of information on their website: http://exhibitions.nypl.org/lunchhour/exhibits/show/lunchhour
All photos are courtesy of the NYPL website.