Beyond the Pail

Is there a dignified way to bring your lunch to work?

My mom had a colleague who kept a toaster oven on his desk where he’d cook everything from grilled cheese to fish filets. He wasn’t very popular.

I don’t need to list off the good reasons to bring your lunch. But if you work in a professional/office environment with a culture of eating out; you may, at times, feel self conscious to be carrying your food in a re-used brown supermarket poly bag, or eating from of a plastic storage container, or pulling a sandwich out of a baggie. (There is an awkward adolescent lurking within all of us.)

Regardless of the contents, there are a few ways to improve the presentation not to mention the transportation of meals. A few thoughts:

Butcher paper, deli paper, and parchment paper add a layer of mystery to your sandwich and thus look better than plastic film (e.g., Saran wrap). Wrap them neatly and secure with a bit of tape.

For salads or leftover lasanga, one can do better than eating out of grease-stained plastic. A nice glass storage container with a rubber lid is an improvement, or bring a plate; even an aluminum camping plate improves the quality of the experience.

India is the world’s capital for homemade lunches and by extension lunch pails. A typical meal–rice, chapati, dal, subtje (vegetables), yogurt, and chutneys–is brought in a stack of individual stainless steel containers held together by a clamp.

India has a robust steel industry and stainless is a great way to transport food, but it does need to transferred if you plan to re-heat it in a microwave.

There are numerous Japanese bento boxes available. Bento boxes tend to be plastic and often come in a insulated carrier. Some are pretty clever but personally, they seem a little high school.

Finally, the bag or carrier is critical. Being in Maine you cannot go wrong with a small canvas L.L. Bean tote bag, I seek out the funny monograms at the outlet stores. The ones with the zippered top add some heat retention (I often use a sweater as insulation).

If you work in what has appallingly been come to be known as the creativity industry you might consider an actual galvanized bucket plus lid or even antique lunch pail:

It might run you over hundred dollars but that still is only a week of $20 lunches.


Zack Barowitz

About Zack Barowitz

Zack Barowitz is a writer, artist, and flâneur. He is the radio host of "This Land Is" on WMPG Tuesday nights at 7:30. His work can be seen at