Lunch is the meal most likely to be either wolfed down or skipped entirely. It is as true in modern life as it was back in 1955, when LIFE cast its lingering gaze on the oft-hurried mid-day ritual.
“At the daily shriek of the factory whistle, clang of school bell or simple growl of an empty tummy, workday America rushes eagerly to cafeteria, lunch box, bean wagon, or executive dining room for its meridian meal,” LIFE said in its June 3, 1955 issue, introducing a photographic essay on the topic by Alfred Eisenstaedt. That entire issue was devoted to food, and the American way of lunch, LIFE wrote, was seen as offensive by “….European gourmets, to whom the hurried inhalation of hot dogs, hamburgers and poor boy sandwiches is an abomination.” But LIFE’s conclusion was that lunch, “if no epicurean triumph, still fulfills its chief function—the revitalization of a busy nation.”
Eisenstaedt photographed a wonderful variety of subjects—from the solitary meal of a construction worker or U.S. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles to communal gatherings at the farm table or the midtown diner. Some of the midday diners enjoy themselves, like workers at the Boeing plant who not only eat but play shuffleboard during their lunch break. But the photo that captures the essence of the American lunch, then and now, is the one of actress Angela Lansbury.
Lansbury is shown downing a hamburger at the Paramount Studio commissary. She sits at a table with Basil Rathbone, her costar in the movie The Court Jester. The movie was a musical comedy set in medieval times.
Lansbury sits in full costume, for her role of Princess Gwendolyn. But the meal is no royal treat. between the burger in her hand and the expression in her eyes, she looks like just another worker in need of a break, and some sustenance. So, thank God for lunch.
And then, back to work.
Carpenter Chuck Haines relaxed on a sixth-story I-beam of a bank being built in Beverly Hills, Calif., while lunching on a ham and cheese on white.