COLUMN: The meaning of lunch in the North Star State

This is my column for the Sunday, June 19, 2011 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune. I voiced a version of this piece on an episode of KAXE’s “Between You and Me” earlier this month.

The meaning of lunch in the North Star State
By Aaron J. Brown

If you haven’t seen yet there is a new book out called “Minnesota Lunch: From Pasties to Bahn Mi,” edited by James Norton from the Minnesota Historical Society Press. This book explores the lunches of the many different peoples who have populated Minnesota over the years. Two prominent Iron Range sandwiches play an important role in the book, the pasty and porketta. I visited with Norton and his wife when they were here in Hibbing to explore the roots of these meaty staples of Range food fare.

There’s a reason that the Range made this book twice. When you get down to it lunch is a big deal around here, in a state where lunch is already pretty important.

I remember reading about an early European missionary working among a Native American tribe in the Northeast. This would have been in the 17th century sometime. In a letter he advised a colleague that life with the Indians was difficult. This was mostly because after a big breakfast no one ate until sundown. There was simply no lunch to be had, barely a pause from the day’s activities. “Eat big at dawn,” he counseled, albeit in more formal terms.

Those old Europeans loved their lunch, particularly the English – producers of the word luncheon. So when Minnesota was settled by successive waves of different immigrant groups, you better believe lunch was served. For centuries, lunch has been a mastication staple here on the continent. It’s a midday break, a social occasion and even an infusion of energy.

In parts of the world, and parts of the state, lunch is still dinner. We call supper dinner in our house; I’ve heard some people call lunch supper. People pretty much leave breakfast alone, except when its mated with lunch for brunch. It makes me want to eat one giant meal each day call Supinfest.

In modern times lunch is tricky business. For starters, lunch is the social arbiter of our entire socio-economic system beginning with kindergarten.  Hot lunch or cold lunch. If cold, what’s in there? Is it a decent juice box or just a sandwich? Hot lunch? Free, reduced or do your parents live up there on the hill. Oh, brother. It’s all right there at the lunch table, even if it takes you a few years to figure it out.

Once you find your place in the lunch room they spit you out into the world to find your own lunch. And dagnabbit if a lot of tasty lunches don’t become available to you just as your metabolism shifts down into a towing gear.

Part of our problem is that the modern economy, especially here in America, calls on us to work harder burning fewer calories. We sit, type, perform repetitive tasks, swipe cards and brainstorm. One Whopper would keep us for a few days but that’s not how we do things.

For those of us who struggle to fit into the same pants all year round, lunch is a daily reckoning. What’s it going to be, Jumbo? One slice of cheese on that sammich, use the mustard instead of the butter. Count those pretzels. The serving size is on the bag. Right there. You know where it is. What, you want something hot? You want a hot, healthy lunch? They have cook books for that. Special ones.

These are modern problems. I hope you can rustle up something good for your Sunday lunch and/or dinner. I plan to.

Aaron J. Brown is a writer and community college instructor from the Iron Range. He is the author of the blog and the book “Overburden: Modern Life on the Iron Range.”


  1. Mmmmmm, pasties.

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