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What You Don't Know About Sandwiches

Eating at your desk, a tradition dating back 300 years.

Bee Wilson has a new book called simply The Sandwich. The British food writer covers the history and cultural significance of the humble lunch food, including its likely origins (via The Economist):


The sandwich is named after the fourth Earl of Sandwich, John Montagu (1718-1792). Too busy to stop for dinner, he called for some beef between two slices of bread. Anecdotally, he was a heavy gambler who enjoyed playing all-night cards and didn’t want to stop for a meal, but most likely he was working long hours at his desk. This style of snack caught on in the London clubs frequented by the Earl. Soon “I’ll have what Sandwich is having” became “I’ll have a sandwich”.

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What I found surprising was that the Earl may have conceived of the idea while eating at his desk, something I thought was a much more recent phenomena:

Sandwiches are eaten on any and every occasion, but most of us, like the Earl, choose them for speed and convenience. According to Joe Moran, a social historian, seven out of ten workers in Britain now eat at their desks, consuming lunch in an average time of 3.5 minutes. Sandwiches are practical, but they are clearly not without perils.

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Photograph courtesy of Jon Chonko.