Feature writing


Don’t diss the beauty of brunch: defending our favorite meal

The Daily Beast

October 15, 2014

Oh dear, the New York Times has pronounced brunch as done, over, declaring, “Brunch is for jerks.”

In a witty and passionately argued article, writer David Shaftel bemoaned his West Village neighborhood in New York City being subsumed into the “brunch-industrial complex.”

He writes: “By late morning, crowds of brunchers—often hung over and proudly bedraggled—begin to assemble, eager to order from rote menus featuring some variation of mimosas and eggs Benedict.”

Apparently chefs bury the worst of their scraps in brunches, and customers and wait staff treat each other with contempt, and brunch itself has slipped its time moorings, says Shaftel. What used to be a meal intended for that weekend window between breakfast and lunch is now being enjoyed right up until dinnertime. Essentially, the weekend has become one long, infantilizing brunch-slide made up of crappy, lukewarm egg dishes and flat Prosecco and orange juice.

Except: that’s the point, that’s the beauty of brunch. It’s the weekend. Freed from the constraints of the work week, albeit briefly, the human race goes a little crazy and seeks its pleasures—those crazy-ass fools—by not having fixed mealtimes, by doing utterly insane, slutty things like eating an egg sandwich at 1 p.m., and then—the criminals, for surely this is only a hop and skip to total Marquis de Sade decadence—finishing it off with a mimosa.

Brunch is not serious, that’s its inherent genius. It’s an aid and accessory to relaxation, it’s comfort with a veneer of chichi. It’s catching up with friends, taking a breath. It’s excellent hash with crispy, golden-fried potato, it’s scrambled eggs on toast, a sausage and onion sandwich slathered in ketchup, Marmite and butter, pancakes and blueberries, bagels with strawberry jelly, eggs mixed up in something and cheese. It’s gossip, giggling, silly time, fun.

It’s having a second mimosa, getting up from the table, and going to the nearest bookshop, realizing you haven’t read a novel in months—hell, the nearest you get to relaxation reading is scrolling through the on-screen TV listings. So you buy $40-worth of novels. These novels may curl and yellow because of your own laziness, but you buy them, and through your mimosa haze you remember how much you love books, and your friends, and loafing around.

Or you carry on drinking mimosas and brunch becomes the hideous oh-no-I-mustn’t-oh-shit-I-am gateway to a blurred day into evening of drinking and a hangover you think you will never survive come Sunday morning.

Brunch is a catalyst, brunch is the enforcer of different-rules-for-the-weekend. It can be fancy or absolutely unfancy. Shaftel’s scorn for the buffed and rich brunchers of the West Village is palpable, but simpler fare—and a broader cross-section of brunchers—can be found in any diner. But yes, brunch is utterly selfish “you” time, and all the more valuable—in the weekend buffer zone of our put-upon weekday world—for it.

And if, oh crime of crimes Mr. Shaftel, people are indeed acting out their Sex and The City fantasies having brunch with friends, well so what? As long as it’s scenes from the TV show and not those hideous movies, let them have their Carrie, Charlotte, Miranda, and Samantha moments. Particularly Miranda.

Shaftel posits an innate selfishness to brunch. The central whine of his brilliantly grumpy piece is that those who enjoy brunch are young, well-off professionals who are “unencumbered with children—exactly the kind of people who can fritter away Saturday, Sunday, or both over a boozy brunch.”

Brunch, rails Shaftel, is about our “desire to reject adulthood. It’s about throwing out not only the established schedule but also the social conventions of our parents’ generation. It’s about reveling in the naughtiness of waking up late, having cocktails at breakfast and eggs all day. It’s the mealtime equivalent of a Jeff Koons sculpture.”

And, um, what’s wrong with that?

Brunch is a break from routine. It doesn’t seem infantilizing though, more just a chance to play hooky from the stresses of the workweek. It is hardly a rejection of adulthood, rather a momentary escape from routine. And if it is a rejection of adulthood, the brutal truth is it only lasts two hours tops before the demands of the big-A—bill paying, work stuff, relationship crises, cleaning your apartment, running errands—reassert themselves.

Brunch is like an afternoon trip to the cinema, a lost hour to yourself walking and mooching, a stolen half hour watching the table tennis players in Bryant Park, or losing yourself in The New Yorker in a coffee shop: delicious time, time to be savored that’s off the grid.

So what if people with some spare cash order eggs Benedict made with jamón Ibérico and duck eggs? For Shaftel this kind of licentious behavior amounts to “conspicuous consumption disguised as urbanity.” Well, there’s a lot of that especially in New York, in how people dress and furnish their homes, and go out to eat and drink; indeed this show-offery is endemic to any place with high-earners and social aspirants. Brunch seems to be the tamest expression of it.

As with his extreme dislike of the young, successful, single people enjoying brunch, Shaftel’s critique seems less rooted in what is ultimately an innocuous meal than in an envy many can identify with. As he himself says, he has turned 40, has a child, and watches the young, rich singletons frittering away their brunch hours, drinking and pecking at their omelets knowing what lies in wait for many of them on the other side.

Yes, these people can seem, as they chug their Bloody Marys and mindlessly toy with their grits, rich, loud and obnoxious—and one’s heart sinks when one sees them in any neighborhood, in any restaurant, at any time. But braying, moneyed bores cluttering up one’s streets are no reason to trash an entire, happiness-enhancing mealtime.

Shaftel’s parting shot is that he knows how to poach an egg thank you very much, and can do so at home. He’s such a theatrical misery-guts, and such a fun, hawk-eyed observer of the entitled tykes with their invasively hedonistic eating and drinking, I think he could be tempted back to his bad old ways if someone arranged some childcare and put a mimosa in his hand and a breakfast burrito on a plate in front of him. David, I’ll happily do it myself. See you on Sunday.