Company and Cuisine: The Social Phenomenon of Brunch

by Daisy Jasmine, Staff Writer

Over this past spring break, I had the unique opportunity to travel to San Diego with a fellow Das Tor writer and attend a new food festival: specifically, a one-day convention devoted to brunch, called BrunchCon. Food festivals are no new concept, of course, and in recent years, classic and modern food trends alike have seen their day in the limelight, from the cronut of the early 2000s to the fantastically-hued “unicorn” treats of 2017. However, it is clear that the famous portmanteau’d hybrid meal has long since grown beyond a simple trend and into a timeless cultural pillar of its own.

BrunchCon logo courtesy of BrunchCon

What is it, then, that makes brunch so special that it has been canonized into our culinary traditions? As our visit to BrunchCon has taught me, the answer is not as obvious as some may think. In order to discover the driving force behind the disruptive cultural success of brunch, we first need to dismiss the red herrings which may lead us astray.

When people hear the word “brunch,” they often tend to take the kitschy coined term at face value. The word itself is halfway between breakfast and lunch, so people reasonably assume that the event itself must occur during that narrow temporal window—usually defined as falling somewhere between 10:00am and noon. This rationalization isn’t without its merits—a meal in the late morning allows people to sleep in without sacrificing the metabolic benefits of breakfast.

Salvador Dali’s interpretation of the best time for brunch. Courtesy of Mental Floss

However, this argument falls short when faced with the reality that brunch is in no way limited to this schedule, as was demonstrated by BrunchCon in San Diego. The convention took place over two blocks of time in one day, and my friend and I opted to attend the first block. This decision lead to our waking up shortly after sunrise in order to get across town to the venue by 8:30am—the sort of early hour that most would consider unambiguously breakfast-time. People arrange their eating habits around their responsibilities and other plans, and brunch is no different—whether you wake up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at sunrise or roll out of bed sometime in the afternoon.

As it turns out, there are plenty of reasons. Image from Parks and Recreation, courtesy of Pinterest

Beyond the matter of time, the other widely-accepted assumption of what makes brunch unique is the type of food served. Interestingly, this facet often ignores the hybrid nature of the meal. The much broader range of “lunch” foods are ignored in favor of classic sweet and savory breakfast foods. However, as the highlight of BrunchCon goes to show, there’s no limit to what manner of fare is appropriate for the occasion. While there was no shortage of classic go-to dishes such as pancakes and croissants, the local restaurants and cafes featured at the convention made the most of the opportunity to experiment, providing unique and creative products such as “impossible” vegan burgers, coffee-rubbed beef, and other hearty samples usually not found on a breakfast menu.

The exciting experience of BrunchCon has lead me to develop a new framework which goes beyond the commonly-accepted and overly restrictive requirements of timing and culinary genre. The importance and appeal of brunch can be broken up into what I call the “Three Cs.”

Chefs from a cooking game show, lined up like baseball cards. Courtesy of Food Network

The first “C” of brunch is the ever-present Culture. Food in general has long been a key theme in cultural traditions and customs around the world—likely due in large part to the fact that it is second only to air and water in terms of necessity for life. No other routine task enjoys so much diversity in its appreciation as cooking. We treat it as an art as chefs strive to create dishes that please the eye as well as the mouth, and we treat it as a science as we experiment with recipes, building off of the knowledge of those before us who laid the groundwork for the precise measurements and methods for things such as candy-making and baking. We treat it as one of our favorite spectator sports, tuning in to multiple channels dedicated to the topic and cheering for our favorite chefs as they overcome challenges, and we treat it as a coming-of-age ritual as parents walk their children through recipes which have been passed down in tattered cookbooks for generations.

All of these factors come into play at brunch, a time when we rarely settle for the usual routine, instead opting to give the chefs reign to concoct the wildest and most Instagram-worthy dishes they can fathom. Meals tell the story of the person in the kitchen and the person ordering the plate—where they are from and what they love. At the same time, we use brunch as an opportunity to treat ourselves like royalty, indulging ourselves and playing at living as elegantly as we wish we were, all the while documenting the occasion for posterity.

Mr. Big from Zootopia understands the implicit trust in sharing a meal. Courtesy of Netflix

This leads us, then, to the second C of brunch, and arguably the most important—Community. Brunch, when eaten alone, is nothing more than a late breakfast or an early lunch. Brunch is a well-established social ritual, where we gather with friends and share an experience. Judgment is checked at the door, and we take this time out of our day to open up to our friends about the good, the bad, and the gossip, our eloquence and appreciation for each other loosened by the contentment that comes from good food and great company. Mimosas, when they run in abundance, also enhance the reckless delight of this grownup playdate. We take the time out of our busy weeks to focus on each other and strengthen our bonds. Even with acquaintances and colleagues we do not yet know well, the event of brunch provides the perfect setting to grow affective trust. Business deals and romantic deals alike are struck up over food, and brunch is no different. The freedom the chef experiences in the kitchen at brunch is met by the freedom of the guests at the table. It’s a jovial moment of plenty where anything is possible, encouraged by the smiles of the people around us.

The third C of brunch goes hand in hand with the previous two and can change from occasion to occasion. This C stands for either Comfort or Celebration, and sometimes both at once. Culturally, food is irremovably intertwined with these two concepts. When we or our loved ones are faced with any life event of note—a birth, a wedding, an illness, a graduation, a death—when we show up to provide our support, we bring food (and food-related items, such as the surplus of toasters that newlyweds know to expect from family who didn’t bother to look at the registry). Additionally, brunch customarily takes place on the weekend, usually on Sundays. We celebrate having survived another long and tiring week of work, responsibilities, and stress, while nursing our hangovers and metaphorical battle wounds and rejuvenating ourselves for the week ahead. This secular sabbath is the time for revelry, commiseration, and gratitude for what and who we have—and at the end of the day, that is the true meaning of brunch.

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