New York City is one of the busiest places on earth and lunchtime in NYC is one of the most hectic times of the day. There are many places to get food in NYC ranging from five star restaurants to street corner food carts. Although food is easily accessible in New York, it is not something that is usually given serious consideration aside from times when one wishes to end their hunger pains. The history of eateries in New York is a topic that is has been even less examined in historical contexts…and that is precisely what makes The New York Public Library’s exhibition “Lunch Hour NYC” so fun, engaging and informative.
“Lunch Hour NYC” is an exhibition that is on view at the New York Public Library in Manhattan. “Lunch Hour NYC” treats visitors to a detailed explanation of what lunch in the city is like currently and what it was like for past generations. Upon entering the exhibition, visitors see an “oyster cart” that was a popular source of lunchtime meals in the 19th and early 20th century—before health codes stopped such sales. Further investigation into the exhibition reveals the history behind the automated machines that stored hot meals for cheap prices. These machines, known as “automats,” were used in Grand Central Station throughout the 1930s-1960s and were featured in a number of films and TV shows. Another highlight of the exhibition is the history behind lunches in NYC schools, which were started as a social program to help poor and malnourished children receive the daily sustenance that could often not be provided at home. School lunch programs actually started in NYC and were successful enough to lead to the national program that still stands today.
The exhibition includes life-sized reconstructions of the popular 1930s-1960s era automats, a collection of colorful children’s lunchboxes, and an extremely well done video slideshow of modern day photography taken in various eateries around New York City. Each image truly captures everyday life (and lunch) within the city limits.
All of this and more is on view at the New York Public Library until February 17, 2013. The exhibition is free of charge and is open 7 days a week from 10am to 6pm, 7:30pm, or 5pm. For a full view of each days open hours, click here: http://www.nypl.org/events/exhibitions/lunch-hour-nyc-0
Although the best way to view this wonderful display is in person, not everyone lives close enough to NYC to experience it. Luckily, efforts have been made to put the exhibition online so anyone from anywhere in the world can enjoy its informative offerings via this link: http://exhibitions.nypl.org/lunchhour/exhibits/show/lunchhour
New York City has a rich history and, when combined with the subject of food, that history leads to an interesting assessment and chronological explanation of how technology has changed the way that people get lunch throughout the decades. Yet what is most fascinating is how, despite the changes in food laws and restaurants, the basic human joy of eating a good meal in good company over lunch remains unchanged.