Workers embrace packed lunches
by Vuong Bach Lien
Scrimp and save: An office worker has her home-made lunch at her desk in the office. Taking a lunchbox to work each day is increasingly common in many countries, including Japan, US, Australia and some European countries. — File Photo
Office worker Nguyen Thi Ngoc has decided to bring a prepared lunch to work each day, prompted by an increase in the cost of restaurant meals in her area.
She is not alone. At least 10 of her female colleagues have been bringing their lunch from home for up to a year.
Such a habit is not uncommon in the western world. Taking a lunchbox to work each day is common in developed countries like Japan, US, Australia and some European countries.
And so it was in Viet Nam until about 25 years ago (before the doi moi (renewal) process began in 1986). Up to that time there was a dearth of restaurants and office canteens and life was more difficult. However, as times improved, people and habits changed and the lunchbox all but disappeared.
Now that things are getting tough again, the lunchbox is making a comeback here.
“There are about 100 employees at my office but only 10 people regularly bring a home-made lunch to work,” says Ngoc, who lives in Ha Noi. “However, I wouldn’t be surprised if other colleagues join us.
“I used to buy lunch in street restaurants but now the cost is higher. A bowl of pho (noodle soup) costs up to VND40,000 (US$2) in a modest restaurant and it is not enough to sustain me.
“If I bring lunch from home every day, I can save up to VND500,000 a month, one-third of the salary being paid by the State for a debutante employee,” Ngoc says.
One other reason to explain this trend is the lack of food hygiene in many street restaurants, which is likely to cause poisoning.
Tran Thanh Nga, a bank employee, says: “It’s dangerous to eat in some street restaurants. I’ve heard stories of people who got sick after eating in some place and had to be hospitalised.”
Other people opt to bring a lunchbox to work because they find it practical: It saves time going to restaurants and waiting to be served.
It also avoids the rough behaviour and rudeness of some restaurant owners in Ha Noi.
“When the restaurant is crowded, some operators speak very loudly when their customers are paying their bills,” says Thanh Trung who spent some years living in Europe.
“Sometimes they don’t believe us: they want to check if we pay for everything that we eat.”
There is no survey of Vietnamese people who take a lunchbox to work, and the number may not be high.
Tran Thanh Phuong, a bank employee, says only about 20 of the 100 employees of the office take a lunchbox regularly, even though women make up 80 per cent of the staff.
The reasons for this may vary from a lack of time to prepare the lunch at home to a personal preference to go out with friends, she says.
Some may find the food box inconvenient to travel with while others may even be afraid of being judged by colleagues as “penny-pinching” or “stingy”.
Says Nguyen Anh Tuan: “One day, a colleague of mine saw me bring a lunchbox and asked me why I was still so frugal after I spent years living in such a rich city as London. She doesn’t know that many people in Great Britain also take lunchbox to work.”
An Australian newspaper, the Herald Sun, reported a 2011 study showed that almost half of Australians take a “cut lunch”, food from home.
Also, a study by CareerBuilder, published last year, shows that in the US, 57 per cent of women took their lunch from home, compared to 36 per cent among their male counterparts.
In France a study last year by health expert Malakoff Mederic revealed that 46 per cent of French workers take a lunchbox if their office has no canteen.
And in Japan, the bento (boxed meals designed to be carried around and eaten away from home) have long been part of the Japanese lifestyle.
Every day, children take a bento on school trips and sports days, while adults often take them to work and to outdoor events, like cherry-blossom festivals.
People should learn more about this once common habit in Viet Nam that is now facing its own renewal. They will find it saves time and money and, if that’s not an issue, they might a least be more healthy and relaxed. — VNS