University Food Culture (4)


“If you see students eating sandwiches in the corridor, you can be sure they are Dutch” said a foreign colleague to me. Eating an apple or sandwich on the way to somewhere is apparently a particular habit not a general one. Eating like this, skipping a meal but grazing bits on the go reduces lunch as a mealtime to a series of sandwiches spread over the day. It brings the amount of meals – as social events –  back to two or one (or maybe none) if there is no morning meal neither.

In the middle ages, it was also custom to only have two meals a day, ‘ochtenmael’ and ‘aventmael’. Breakfast entered the scene when the morning meal was eaten later, towards noon. Breakfast then, was a small bite ‘on(t)biten’ to bridge time towards the big noon meal. Nowadays it seems that the cultural significance of lunch as meal and marker of the day is decreasing. More people eat lunch while doing something else and eat food items such as sandwiches as matter of private nourishment (see blog).

But also, the National Catering Survey, commercial research by Foodstep of catering habits shows that the turnover of enterprise and public canteens is decreasing (Misset Catering nr 1 feb 2010). More people eat a home brought lunch; the lunch box – broodtrommel – is a serious competitor for catering companies. The primary reasons given is the increasing ‘rationality’ of the consumer; more people are ‘price conscious’ and refrain from a ‘luxurious’ lunch but rather go for simple and quick. The rational consumer needs to be brought back in the canteen with the creation of ‘pleasure experience’ according to the article.

Another conclusion of course is that, apart from possible erosion of lunch culture, what the catering has to offer seems not able to compete with homemade. The question is if this only has to do with the supposed rationality of the consumer (see earlier blog). The article also noted that while almost three quarter of the respondents know the concept of corporate social responsibility and one quarter of consumers are consciously choosing sustainable products, catering companies cannot be caught busy with transforming  their catering concepts. The creation of more ‘experience’ around the food while not addressing the quality and origin of the food itself will probably not bring many people back to the canteen.