Billy can or Canteen? Forms and Issues of the Workplace Meal-taking in the French Labor Literature since 1945

By Éliane Le Port

Food practices in the workplace have a special place in the autobiographical writings of workers. The analysis of behavior and strategies around food gives information on both locations and times of the meals and the breaks, but also on the types of food as well as on sociability at work. The workshop appears as an important place of consumption, particularly in the texts published in the immediate postwar period. Several testimonies reveal ingrained habits, such as adherence to the mealtime on the workplace, addressing the need to recreate a familiar space. Other workers preferred to go out of the workplace to eat in restaurants and cafés, putting some distance between them and the workplace for a while. Food practices, whether ordinary or festive, were part of the daily rhythms of work and the writings reveal the complex links between differentiated times, that of the production and that of the meal. Behind the wide variety of behaviors, a strong socialization of the act of eating is suggested: to eat at work often remains a shared time and the meal is one of the touchstones of worker sociability translated into this labor literature.

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