Survived the 1906 quake but brought down by prohibition
"Would anyone dare order a beer?"
Not likely, not with the boss present. The fact is, even without the boss it would be unusual that one of us would risk getting a beer. It was really looked down on, and who can you trust to break the rules when it comes to co-workers anyway?
I waited on the boss to order first. If he ordered a beer, then it was as good as direct permission for the rest of us to imbibe. Unfortunately, he ordered a coke and so we followed suit accordingly. I wanted a beer with my lunch and I'm sure others in the group did as well, but it's an unwritten law (I'm assuming that it's unwritten) that there will be no beer drinking during the work day. It's not like I wanted to get drunk, just enjoy a cool reviving beverage with my well deserved break. Still, even a single pint was unacceptable and possibly cause for termination. I, like my fellow co-workers, came to accept, that it just wasn't done.
Now, sitting here at my local brewpub, taking another sip of my beer, I considered how lucky I was to be my own boss. Consistently giving myself permission to have a beer with my lunch. I thought about how it happened that the rules about beer in the work place came to be.
Relatively speaking, it was not that long ago in the history of this country that the blue collar work force drank beer with their lunch. It was considered an important part of the break during a hard days work.
Gregg Smith states in his book "Beer - A history of suds and civilization from Mesopotamia to microbreweries" that "...the amounts consumed (beer) during the workday made the three-martini lunch look like a warm-up. It was a custom brought over from Europe where laborers received drink as part of their wages. It was an almost universal feeling that they could not get through their day without refreshment to 'comfortably proceed in their works.'"
A ration of ale was common in the work place going into the 1700's.
The problems began when the workers increasingly abused the privilege and this behavior would eventually contribute to the temperance movement that culminated in the 18th amendment or prohibition. We're all familiar with the unfortunate history of the 18th amendment(the only amendment to be repealed by the way) which made it illegal to produce or consume alcohol. A cruel imposition that didn't go over too well with the general population and eventually the 21st amendment repealed the prohibition and things went back to the way they were. Or did they?
As I sat back and basked in the glory of a cool beer on a warm afternoon, thinking about how it is that I came to regard a beer at lunch as such a fundamental right. I started my own business and had to leave the security of work in the mainstream before gaining the perspective needed to realize that I was still suffering from the strictures of social norms established hundreds of years earlier. As I reviewed my place, it seemed I had lost a privilege and I didn't even know it except as a pang of guilt when I broke the rule and secretly tossed back a cool one with my peanut butter and jelly sandwich. It's a shame really. I had lost my dignity, cowering around my lunch bag, ignorant of the rights that the labor class once enjoyed. A right that was inherent and accepted as proof of our humanity.
But, I'm speaking of my personal experience. Maybe this is not true for most and that I am projecting my bias onto a work force of which I've lost touch. Is it acceptable to have a beer at lunch before returning to the tools of manual labor? Does one order a beer at the working lunch without regard to the bosses sideways glance? I don't really know now that I have been self employed for many years. What I do know is that I will have a beer at lunch and even to this day feel that there is something not quite right about having it. It's feels taboo.
In any case, for my own well being, I've decided that it is time to make a serious effort of repairing the considerable psychic damage that has occurred to me (and the working class if it applies). My desire is to reclaim a small part of the lost liberty and restore a sense of acceptability when enjoying a beer with lunch. For this reason, I have taken it upon myself to proclaim today, Monday August Twenty fourth, 2009 as 'Take A Homebrew To Work Day'.
Do you have a beer with your work lunch? Leave a comment.