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What a shame that we just don't make a meal of lunch these days.

Byline: GEORGE HEPBURN

LUNCH at The Sausage Emporium was the highlight of my week. For an establishment that really only has one product, it has an amazingly varied menu which is delivered with panache in a brilliantly renovated railway arch by Central Station.

It was a gentlemen's lunch at the invitation of an old friend who, with a year or so's seniority, gently helped come to terms with life in the twilight zone without a full time job. We both agreed that the pleasure of attending silver screen performances was compromised by fellow cinema goers who were obviously so much older than ourselves.

I am rarely seen in the dining rooms of town these days. At least one good trencherman's retreat has just closed down, presumably because of the lack of my patronage. At others, the maitre d's leap up to welcome me as a long lost friend. I have even been offered a complimentary aperitif with the sure knowledge that it will help my eye run down to the pricey end of the menu.

The art of lunching is not practised with such consummate skill as of yesteryear. When I worked in Newcastle, a business lunch was the business. It need not cost a fortune. For many years, I could slide out of the back door of the office into a modestly priced bistro on Akenside Hill.

Lunch defines a period of time in which get to know each other, lament the trials and tribulations of the football club and even gossip.

Above all, the lunch ensures you have a captive audience right down to the coffee and mints with suffi-cient time to conclude your deal. There is an ambience about eating together that is rarely achieved in the office.

On the few occasions I was entertained at the Northern Counties Club, there was always a camaraderie amongst the members that must have added a special ingredient to professional life in the town.

Something has been lost with the advent of 'food on the go' and Costa coffee, bought in a rush and consumed at the computer. Lunch is no longer a relationship experience or a breathing space to reflect and revive.

Like my more famous namesake, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, I am aware of the dangers of excessive lunching. George Osborne has apparently followed my example and adopted the 5:2 diet because of the intense demands of his working life on his stomach. "Have another canape, Chancellor", must be a common cry in the City boardrooms he frequents.

The great thing about this fashionable fast diet, adopted by Beyonce, is that providing you restrict yourself to 600 calories on two days a week, you can cram in as many canapes as you like on the remaining five days. You can also move the fasting days to suit your diary.

As I chew slowly away at a single forest fruit yoghurt break (74 calories) for my lunch, washed down with a black coffee, I reflect that I still never really get intense or prolonged pangs of hunger even on a fasting day. A camel can live off its hump.

Most of us do not go hungry but I rather hope that fasting will give George Osborne food for thought as he prepares for the Budget next week. He might try living off a food bank parcel for three days by limiting his food costs to PS14.30. He could announce a pledge to join the national day of fasting from the dispatch box planned for Friday, April 4. (sign up at endhungerfast.co.uk).

In the Christian calendar, it is the time of year to fast. Last Tuesday, all the fattening foods in the cupboard were turned into pancakes and the 40 days of abstinence in Lent kicked in. Christians try to follow the example of Jesus who fasted for 40 days in the desert and was then tempted by the devil.

The Rev Keith Hebden from Mansfield is going the whole hog and living off water for 40 days as a protest against food poverty but the rest of us are more likely to give up something symbolic and naughty like chocolate or alcohol.

We also try to think more deeply during Lent about what really matters to us. On the question of hunger, it boils down to whether the sixth richest nation in the world should tolerate the idea that people can go hungry.

One crumb of comfort for the Chancellor, if he reads the Gospels, is that Jesus, though hungry, refused to turn stones into bread because "man does not live by bread alone." There are no quick fixes on the road to salvation or economic recovery.

Cathy Pharoah, Professor of Charity Funding at Cass Business School, argued in an article last week that giving food to the poor is one of the most natural and traditional acts of charity.

In South Africa and Mexico, it still happens every day as a matter of course. Food banks, she argues, are a more efficient way to organise feeding those on benefits and suggests that banks for other things - like personal computers - should be provided too.

If this is the case,the local recycling dump assumes a whole new role. I like the idea of recycling computers but still am deeply uncomfortable about the idea that food banks are becoming part of our staple diet . In the Gospels Jesus feeds his followers on the mountainside or dines with the bankers of his day persuading them to make four fold reparation. He said farewell to his followers over an iconic last supper. Jesus knew that life changing events happen over a meal.

The highlight of the week ahead for me will be lunch at Il Piccolo with a good friend. The proprietress will greet me, for reasons best known to herself, as 'Georgous George'.

Such fun is diminished if others unnecessarily go hungry. To quote the Latin American grace, "Give bread to those who are hungry, and hunger for justice to those who are fed."

When I worked in Newcastle, a business lunch was the business

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Is it a five day or a two day, Chancellor?
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Title Annotation:Editorial; Opinion, Columns
Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Mar 10, 2014
Words:1031
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