There is great hunger in the Macro-region, and it is a hunger that travels, following the movements of the region’s occupants and demanding satisfaction along the way. The inhabitants of the Macro-region are pilgrims in a deconsecrated land, wearing out their rubber sandals on the tarmac that joins the dots on the route between home and home, home and work, work and work, work and home, and of course the retail oasis. The circular intestines of a giant alimentary canal that joylessly guzzles and evacuates, evacuates and guzzles throughout the working week.
There is great hunger and it is tackled in different ways depending on the order given by the working day.
Lunch, the work lunch, is a key manifestation of Macro-regional man’s need to feed: the first to arrive are the labourers from the building sites, at two minutes to midday, then the white collar workers at 12.30. Half an hour later, when the trucks head back to new casts of concrete, the bank clerks put in an appearance, sending each greasy mouthful down, together with herds of state workers who sometimes choose to leave the handier food troughs in the centre. The more unpredictable variables are the sales reps and the independent tradesmen: they have no fixed hours, apart from the time it must all be over: coffee and toothpicks downed by 2.30.
The digestive system demands carbohydrates and fibre, plus variations on the theme of grilled meat and defrosted fish dishes for protein intake. Lunch, the business lunch, has a set menu, and ten euros is the upper price limit agreed on by the signs propped at the entrances to the car parks off the main road. The digestive system ingurgitates breadsticks and pasta arrabbiata, tomato and mozzarella, savoury pancakes and chops, toasted sandwiches, circular pizzas oozing in the midday heat, steak and chips and mixed salads with tuna and egg.
Those who don’t eat meat can make do with grilled vegetables and a slice of cheese. Sachets of tartar sauce and oil packaged into individual servings. And the obligatory bread basket and jug of room temperature water. Cooking odours, the smell of brakes, cups of decaf coffee, slurped in the space between the teeth.
“The secret lies in that magical 10 euro price tag.”
Forty minutes of chewing, but not on real food, rather a heated up, overcooked, greasy, flavourless replica of the genuine article: Macro-region man needs to line his stomach and can choose a traditional menu, or opt for a touch of Eastern exoticism. Indeed the definitive Macro-region eaterie is not a roadside food truck, café bar, restaurant or pizzeria but a recently coined invention known as the sushi wok. Although meaningless in culinary terms, sushi wok has been chosen as the ideal title for a place serving strips of raw fish on beds of sticky, rubbery rice, seaweed-bound rolls with cubes of veg and cream cheese and colourful patchwork buffets to round off with a mixed grill, fry up or even a pizza. The sushi wok phenomenon is an Eastern enigma, a grey concrete block garnished with a red dragon, offering all you can eat, eat till you burst.
The secret lies in that magical 10 euro price tag. The perfect match between the industrial fodder served up and the habitué’s ready cash. Ten euros is the penalty you consent to pay for being betrayed by hunger once again. You can pay in cash or with a meal ticket, the paper version of the company canteen:
the holder is entitled to spend the sum printed on the ticket, the company that supplies the tickets to its employees gets a tax break, and the restaurateur who accepts the tickets is given part of the face value sum, split with the company that runs the meal ticket circuit. An endless circuit. During these lunch breaks, not just food, but money too is replaced with a representation of itself.
Each pilgrim, having fulfilled his nutritional needs, leaves under a cloud of brain fog. Free to return to his tarmacked path, his lunch is digested in the Macro-region’s alimentary tract. At the beginning his breathing may be somewhat laboured. Overtaken by an almost meditative stupour, his feet melt onto the pavement as he heads for the car park. Pupils dilated, receipt in hand, his thumb scrolls instinctively over the screen of his smart phone while his keys dangle from his other hand. He is just starting to regret not having gone to the bathroom. It was a great hunger but now it has been appeased and he can work through till the evening, after wallowing in the trough of plenty. All you can eat and more.