Bite-sized book ex­am­ines the pol­i­tics of brunch

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - BOOKS - Re­viewed by Ben MacPhee-Sigurdson

IT’S Sun­day. You get up later than nor­mal, nurs­ing a bit of a hang­over and need sus­te­nance (as well as maybe some hair-ofthe-dog ac­tion) to get you through the day. The first thought that comes to mind: brunch. For Toronto-via-Wind­sor au­thor Shawn Mi­callef, this be­tween-break­fast-and-lunch rit­ual has be­come a pain­fully drawn-out af­fair, a quasi-sta­tus sym­bol used by the so­called “creative class.” The Trou­ble With Brunch is part of Coach House’s Ex­ploded Views se­ries — novel­lalength pieces of writ­ing. At 100-plus small but crammed pages, you can es­sen­tially blast through a chap­ter while wait­ing in line to eat brunch at a hip eatery. Mi­callef, a Toronto Star colum­nist and coowner/se­nior edi­tor of Spac­ing magazine, is also the au­thor of Stroll: Psy­cho­geo­graphic Walk­ing Tours of Toronto, as well as Full Frontal TO, and teaches at the Univer­sity of Toronto and OCAD Univer­sity. None of which out­right qual­i­fies one to write about brunch, of course. But his per­spec­tive of brunching in Toronto — es­pe­cially ver­sus his home­town of Wind­sor, from which he moved 14 years ago — helps Mi­callef use brunch as a way to explore no­tions of class that are pretty com­pelling. Rather than step on a soapbox with a bull­horn, Mi­callef’s thought­ful ru­mi­na­tions on class, leisure and brunch are op­por­tu­ni­ties to ex­am­ine the choices we make in our own lives. To Mi­callef, Wind­sor (to whom the book is ded­i­cated) is an in­dus­trial town where bluecol­lar work­ers are the norm — peo­ple work to­wards a house, the cars in the garage and other tan­gi­ble (but costly) items at one job, with the “glass floor” pro­vid­ing a glimpse as to how it could all un­ravel at any time. A Wind­sor brunch is typ­i­cally more util­i­tar­ian: it’s a speedy af­fair usu­ally as­so­ci­ated with hol­i­days, is served in cul­tural cen­tres or ho­tel restau­rants, there’s rarely a lineup and turnover is quick. Brunch in Toronto, how­ever, is more of a so­cial af­fair — there are long waits to sit at hip, rus­tic “work­ing-class” restau­rants, where peo­ple spend un­com­fort­ably long pe­ri­ods of time eat­ing food that’s typ­i­cally un­healthy and only some­times sat­is­fy­ing. (In Win­nipeg, it could be ar­gued both types of brunch ex­ist.) Most of us plot our­selves as be­ing part of the mid­dle class, says Mi­callef, whether we are or not. The creative class, mean­while — self-em­ployed/free­lance types such as writ­ers, graphic de­sign­ers, de­vel­op­ers and sci­en­tists — is a sub­set of this mid­dle class, but is frac­tured and dis­parate; says Mi­callef, “this new class hasn’t a class con­scious­ness in the same way tra­di­tional work­ing-class pop­u­la­tions did.” The creative class has moved to­ward “con­spic­u­ous con­sump­tion” — more iden­tity/life­style-based sta­tus sym­bols: “The creative class has es­chewed the old ex­pres­sions of af­flu­ence, the man­sions and ex­pen­sive cars, for life­style ex­pe­ri­ences like food... to cre­ate their iden­tity.” Mi­callef looks at brunch in the con­text of leisure, and how in an age where the creative class has less time for them­selves — the 9-to-5 sched­ule and (rel­a­tive) se­cu­rity aren’t there as they are for the work­ing class — they’re spend­ing/wast­ing it (and their money) sit­ting around eat­ing brunch. There’s re­ally only one chap­ter where Mi­callef de­tails a par­tic­u­lar brunch ex­pe­ri­ence of his own, a charm­ing tale of dining in Buenos Aires that notes the sim­i­lar­i­ties to his Toronto brunch ex­pe­ri­ences and con­cludes with a ral­ly­ing cry: “If the neari­den­ti­cal cus­toms of brunch could spread to Ar­gentina, there’s lit­tle to stop a sense of class iden­tity and con­scious­ness from form­ing be­tween brunch­ers here and else­where…” The book ends with ways in which some have re­claimed brunch, pro­vid­ing hope that brunch­ers can rally around some­thing other than over­priced, bor­ing old hol­landaise sauce. Ben MacPhee-Sigurdson is the Free Press

lit­er­ary edi­tor.

The Trou­ble With Brunch: Work, Class and the Pur­suit of


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